On another wet night in the Pacific Northwest, Minnesota United faced off against Real Salt Lake in their final match of the Portland preseason tournament. After going up 2-0 early in the second half, Real Salt Lake came roaring back to take the lead 3-2 before Johan Venegas pulled MNUFC even at the last possible moment to earn their third draw in Providence Park, 3-3.
Minnesota United began the match in an unfamiliar formation after playing the previous two in a 4-2-3-1. The Loons’ 4-4-2 formation featured Christian Ramirez and Johan Venegas as forwards.
Attacking play was strong early as it has been throughout this tournament. With fullback Jermaine Taylor once again serving as a fulcrum on the right side of the pitch, Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas showed their chemistry again, finding space in the midfield over the first thirty minutes.
It all came together in the 24th minute, when Christian Ramirez knocked a beautiful one-timer ahead to Venegas. He tapped a low cross to Molino, who slotted a left-footed volley past a falling Matt Van Oekel and into the left side of the net.
“For me it's normal, that's what I expect out of him [Molino], because I know what he's capable of,” said MNUFC Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I thought some of his combination play with Venegas and Ramirez at times tonight was terrific stuff.”
Real Salt Lake threatened a few times following Minnesota United’s goal. Joao Plata settled a long cross in space but couldn’t put it home in the 29th minute, then beat the keeper seven minutes later but sent the shot wide and over the goal line.
Play got a little rougher with Real Salt Lake stepping up the intensity, resulting in a bloodied nose for Ramirez on a challenge in the 37th minute and Real Salt Lake’s Jordan Allen dramatically going into and over a sign board past the goal line with a crash. No one was any the worse for wear, though, and the first half ended with MNUFC up 1-0.
If the first half felt closer to Minnesota United’s first match of the tournament against Vancouver Whitecaps FC — with a slower tempo and more controlled possession — the second half was closer to their last match against the Portland Timbers.
In the 49th minute, Molino sent the ball wide right to Ramirez, who placed a pinpoint cross into the box. Molino continued his run and struck an authoritative header into the right side of the net, completing the brace and putting the Loons up 2-0.
“He has the ability to be the best player in the league,” Heath said. “I've said it before and I'd say it again. It's doesn't matter where he plays, you can play him on the left, play him on the right, you can play him underneath the striker, he always has an impact on the game.”
But as Minnesota United has learned this preseason, no lead is safe. Seven minutes later, Real Salt Lake forward Jordan Allen was taken down in the box, earning a penalty kick for his team. Captain Yuri Movsisyan lined it up and drilled it home, cutting Minnesota United’s lead in half.
In the 63rd minute, MNUFC brought in Kevin Venegas, Mo Saeid and Ibson, shifting the formation back to head coach Adrian Heath’s familiar 4-2-3-1. Real Salt Lake countered in the 76th minute with an almost entirely fresh XI, and it quickly paid dividends.
With ten minutes left in the game, a giveaway in the backfield led to an equalizer by Chad Barrett, which was followed seven minutes later by a wild sequence where a Ricardo Velazco cross found Barret for a header. The ball was deflected, but not cleared, and Andrew Brody rushed in to finish it off, putting Real Salt Lake up 3-2.
That might have been it but for Johan Venegas. After a yellow card in the 92nd minute for Real Salt Lake’s Jose Hernandez in Minnesota United’s half along the touchline broke up the flow of play, MNUFC reorganized and got the ball out ahead to J. Venegas, who calmly struck it past Lalo Fernandez and delivered a fifth consecutive preseason draw for the Loons.
With their stint in Portland complete, MNUFC heads south to Orlando for its final two preseason games against Toronto FC and San Antonio FC.
MNU Starting XI: GK Patrick McLain; D Justin Davis, Vadim Demidov, Francisco Calvo, Jermaine Taylor (Kevin Venegas 63’); M Rasmus Schuller (Eugene Starikov 87’), Collen Warner (Mohammed Saeid 63’), Migule Ibarra (Bashkim Kadrii 46’), Kevin Molino; F Christian Ramirez, Johan Venegas (Ibson 63’)
MNU Unused Subs: GK Marco Carducci; D Tiago Calvano
RSL Starting XI: GK Matt VanOekel (Lalo Fernandez 60’); D Chris Wingert (Reagan Dunk 75’), Aaron Maund (David Horst 45’), Chris Schuler (Justin Schmidt 75’), Demar Phillips (Max Lachowecki 65’); M Luke Mulholland (Omar Holness 75’), Luis Silva (Sunday Stephen 63’), Albert Rusnák (Jose Hernandez 75’); F Jordan Allen (Ricardo Velazco 75’), Yura Movsisyan (Chad Barrett 75’), Joao Plata (Andrew Brody 75’)
RSL Unused Subs: None
24’ – Molino (J. Venegas) – MNU
48’ – Molino (Ramirez) – MNU
57’ – Movsisyan (PK) – RSL
79’ – Barrett – RSL
88’ – Brody – RSL
90+’ – J. Venegas (Starikov) – MNU
10’ – Schuler (YC) – RSL
81’ – Schuller (YC) – MNU
90+’ – Hernandez (YC) – RSL