Minnesota United came into their Western Conference Semifinal matchup with Sporting Kansas City having already bettered their playoff performance from 2019 by winning in the first round. But facing the top seed in the conference, on the road, in a stadium where they had never gotten so much as a point and had only scored one goal in the last four years? Nothing to do but go get a clean sheet, three-goal win, it seems. After weathering a strong opening salvo by the home side, the Loons took off with an opening goal by Kevin Molino in the 27th minute and never looked back, pushing it to 3-0 by the half and shutting it down in the second to book a trip to Seattle for the Western Conference Final.
© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The game began with the home side grabbing the initiative. Sporting Kansas City put pressure on Minnesota United’s defense right off the whistle, even without Designated Player Alan Pulido, and pressed high to win the ball back when they gave it up. Just two minutes in, winger Johnny Russell cut behind the backline and picked up the ball with space to take on Dayne St. Clair one on one. The Scotsman chipped it over an onrushing St. Clair, but defender Michael Boxall was there to clean it up with a header over the endline for a corner kick.
Early on, when MNUFC were able to control the ball, they found space on the wings to send in crosses, but were unable to find targets in the box. On the defensive end, they continued to rely on St. Clair to keep the game scoreless as they worked out the kinks on the offensive side. In the 14th minute, forward Khiry Shelton got Boxall to commit and then turned him before putting on a burst of speed to get past Bakaye Dibassy. The move opened up a lane for Russell, who challenged St. Clair again but the Canadian was up for it again, going to ground to frustrate SKC’s attack.
Only moment later, St. Clair had to come up big again. Defender Jaylin Lindsey pushed up onto the right wing and launched a pinpoint cross onto the head of defender Roberto Puncec. Puncec drilled it from point blank range but somehow, St. Clair got a hand on it and kept it out right on the goal line. The sequence came in a stretch that found the Loons bending but not breaking, spending most of their time pinned in their own half and absorbing body blows from SKC.
Once MNUFC could get some time and space on the ball, however, they began putting together strings of possession as they started to get the ball up to their attacking midfield. Over the last several games, the chemistry between Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino has only grown and it was on full display in the 27th minute. Molino on the left side dropped the ball in to Reynoso and then continued his run. The Argentine tracked him and delivered an inch-perfect ball to Molino in space and the winger curled a right-footed shot around goalkeeper Tim Melia to open the scoring and give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Less than 10 minutes later, the home side once again found themselves in trouble at the hands of the Loons’ dynamic duo. Having once again worked their way into the final third, Reynoso held the ball 30 yards out and spied Molino loitering in the midst of an uneven backline and just onside. Reynoso lofted the ball over the defense and Molino stretched his right foot way out to tap the ball past a bamboozled Melia and onto the far post to double the lead to 2-0 in the 35th minute.
With the floodgates open, MNUFC added to their lead moments later. It was once again Reynoso setting the table as he stood over a corner kick from the right side. His inswinging corner found Dibassy, who hammered home the header in the 38th minute for his first MLS goal to make it 3-0. The play also have Reynoso his third assist of the night for the gentleman’s hat trick. It also gave him a stunning 10 assists in his last five games.
Despite the desperate straits for Sporting Kansas City as they stared down the possibility of being eliminated, Head Coach Peter Vermes kept his cards close to his chest and made no changes to start the second half. MNUFC also kept the same lineup on the pitch and set about doing their best to control the tempo and not let SKC back into the game.
Although Johnny Russell did his best to take the game by the scruff of the neck and Vermes would eventually bring in Gadi Kinda and Erik Hurtado to change the feel of the contest, there simply wasn’t much going in the second half, which was just the way Minnesota wanted it. While each team had a handful of chances, neither truly challenged the other’s keeper through the second 45 and when the final whistle blew, Minnesota United stood victorious. Now unbeaten in 10 games, the Loons will head to Seattle to face the reigning champion Sounders on Monday at 8:30 p.m. CT.
ADRIAN HEATH ON THE REYNOSO-MOLINO CONNECTION
“It takes someone like Robin [Lod] to come and join in with them as well. Robin gets in the really little, delicate pockets of the opposition. He comes in and very rarely turns the ball over. You know, we can zip it in to him and we know that we can come and join in from there. And, if we continue – and, I said this before the game to the players, I said it to the people at FOX that did the game – if we can break their initial press, and get the ball in that second seam, then we are going to be a match for anybody. That includes Seattle at the weekend. If we can continually break their initial press and get our players – our attacking players – on the ball, I think we’re going to be dangerous to play against.”
MICAHEL BOXALL ON THE UNDERDOG LABEL
“I know within this group, there’s no one we’re afraid of playing, or no one we don’t we think can’t beat in this league. The underdog talk, that’s for you guys to write about I guess. I think, even during the course of a 90-minute game, Adrian says so much stuff. You take in some, you ignore some, get on with the game and we just do our jobs. I don’t really read, all due respect to you guys, I don’t read anything you guys write. So, it doesn’t really affect me.”
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
- 27’ | Molino drops it off to Reynoso and keeps his run going, then Reynoso finds him and he curls it with his right foot around Melia to open the scoring. 1-0
- 35’ | Reynoso lofts the ball over the defense and Molino stretches all the way out with his right foot, tapping it on the far post for his brace. 2-0
- 39’ | Reynoso’s corner comes in and Dibassy smashes it home with his head for his first MLS goal. 3-0
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Lumen Field | Seattle, Washington
12.07.2020 | Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs | Western Conference Final
8:30 p.m. CT (FS1, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
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