In a preview of MNUFC’s upcoming Major League Soccer season opener on March 3 in Portland, Minnesota United faced off with tournament hosts, the Portland Timbers, at Providence Park. Minnesota earned a well-fought 2-2 draw in front of a packed Timbers’ crowd.
In true preseason fashion, Minnesota United began with an almost entirely different starting XI than a few days earlier against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Aside from goalkeeper John Alvbage and winger Kevin Molino, MNUFC began with a fresh group of players, seven of which went a full ninety minutes.
The Timbers – who won the MLS Cup Final in 2015 – took immediate control of the game, with Victor Arboleda getting a shot off in the first minute, deflected away by Kevin Venegas. Arboleda earned a free kick chance just outside the box in the 9th minute after a nifty misdirection around his defender, but nothing came of it.
“We started a bit slow, and they started very quick – to be expected – but once we weathered the initial storm, I thought some of our play in the first half was outstanding,” said MNUFC Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Our combination play that we had with Molino, Venegas, Kadrii and Ibson was really top drawer, so the fact is I'm really pleased with another encouraging performance.”
Portland notched four corner kicks in the first 15 minutes of play, with Alvbage coming up big and claiming several crosses confidently. Despite early possession from Portland, Minnesota eventually found its way into the match and chances on the counterattack would eventually pay off.
In the 25th minute, Marco Farfan pressed forward against defender Kevin Venegas a little too strongly along the right side, opening up a counterattack and seam for Molino to work with farther up the pitch. After a crafty move pushing the ball past his defender, Molino struck a powerful shot which the keeper, Jeff Attinella, parried into the path of onrushing Johan Venegas. Venegas cleaned up the deflection and coolly headed it into the net, giving MNUFC a 1-0 lead.
“It was the build up play before that I liked a lot, because it was some outstanding one-touch, two-touch play in the build up and then it was a lovely little ball that Kevin's nicked past a player and a good save from the 'keeper, but Johan was there – you know Johan has a goal in him, we know that, and he'll be a lot better for having 45 minutes as well,” Heath said. “So it's been a really good evening. Some of the stuff we've been working on we should start to see a little more regularly than we did before, so so far so good I think.”
Seven minutes later, Venegas struck again, this time assisted by Bashkim Kadrii, who set up Venegas with a slick back heel near the top of the penalty arc. Venegas slotted the ball through Attinella’s outstretched legs, giving the Loons the 2-0 advantage.
Up 2-0 Minnesota United began to control the ball with more confidence. Kadrii pushed forward and earned several good chances, including a long strike which clanged off the crossbar just before the half.
Portland wasted no time getting back into it in the second half. After a giveaway in midfield, the Timbers got a shot on goal that Alvbage deflected, but Jack McInerney got a hold of the rebound and found the back of the net to make it 2-1.
The goal gave Portland a little lift, restoring some of the command they flashed early. In the 59th minute, the Timbers substituted 10 players, giving the team the look that’s expected to start the match when these teams meet again in the regular season. If the prospect of facing a fresh starting lineup 60 minutes into the game rattled Minnesota, they didn’t show it, with Kadrii putting a knuckler on goal hardly 30 seconds after the substitution.
Through the middle third of the second half, the Timbers applied steady pressure, winning several corner kicks, but MNUFC’s backline held well. The centerback pairing of Brent Kallman and Joe Greenspan caught the Timbers offside several times as the match entered its final 15 minutes.
“The whole of the back four after the initial ten, twelve, minutes, once we weathered that first storm, they did terrific,” said Heath.
Minnesota couldn’t hold on to the lead against such a concerted attack forever. In the 85th minute, Sebastian Blanco worked the ball out to Alvas Powell on the right side, who then put it on the near post, finding Fanendo Adi waiting. Adi dinked it off the back of his foot directly in front of goal and netted the equalizer.
In all, it was an excellent test for Minnesota United’s developing squad, especially given how well they stood up to the fresh legs Portland brought on in the second half. By the end of the game, seven of MNUFC’s players had played all 90.
Minnesota faces Real Salt Lake in their third game of this preseason tournament on Wednesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. CT. Tune in to a livestream of the match on MNUFC.COM.
MNU Starting XI: GK John Alvbage; D Thomas De Villardi, Brent Kallman, John Greenspan, Kevin Venegas (Alvin Jones 45’); M Ibson, Collin Martin, Bashkim Kadrii (Tanner Thompson 64’), Ismaila Jome, Kevin Molino (Gene Starikov 47’); F Johan Venegas (Christian Ramirez 45’)
MNUFC Unused Subs: Patrick McLain, Marco Carducci; Tiago Calvano; Josh Gatt, Raul Gonzalez
POR Starting XI: GK Jeff Attinella; D Chance Myers, Rennico Clarke, Zarek Valentin, Marco Farfan; M Ben Zemanski, Amobi Okugo, Dairon Asprilla, Jack Barmby, Victor Arboleda (Sebastian Blanco 45’); F Jack McInerney
POR Second Half XI: GK Jake Gleeson; D Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum, Liam Ridgewell, Vytas; M David Guzmán, Diego Chara, Sebastián Blanco, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; F Fanendo Adi
25’ — J. Venegas — MNU
32’ — J. Venegas (Kadrii) — MNU
51’ — McInerney — POR
85’ — Adi (Powell) — POR
9’ — Greenspan (YC) — MNU