To say Minnesota United’s roster has been hit hard recently is an understatement. After bringing in Billy Heavner last week as an emergency backup to Bobby Shuttleworth following injuries to starter John Alvbage and backup Patrick McLain, the Loons traveled to New England to face the Revolution with just 17 men due to international call-ups for Rasmus Schuller, Francisco Calvo, Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino, plus a suspension for Justin Davis following a red card against Colorado. As Head Coach Adrian Heath acknowledged after practice this week, it was going to be a long 90 minutes for a shorthanded Loons squad. Despite pouring in a lot of energy, Minnesota found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-2 loss.
Right from kickoff, New England pounced on the ball and got it into the final third of the field. Their confidence in possession was immediately apparent and it didn’t take long for them to take advantage. In the fourth minute, midfielder Juan Agudelo headed it into the back of the net after a cross from midfielder Chris Tierney – making his 200th MLS start, all for New England — on the left side.
It was clear that Minnesota was lacking consistency due to the absence of the starters who had begun to show flashes of chemistry in last week’s draw against Colorado. “It doesn’t help when you’ve got four players who are away and probably would’ve played,” said Heath. “But we still should’ve been better than we were. That’s not an excuse, I don’t like making excuses, but we should have been a lot better than we were today.”
They struggled to maintain possession in the face of New England’s high press, but 15 minutes in, fortune smiled on them. About 25 yards out from New England’s goal, a hard ball from forward Christian Ramirez ricocheted off of Revolution defender Scott Caldwell and settled at Collen Warner’s feet. Warner tapped it right and then fired a low shot past the outstretched fingers of goal keeper Cody Cropper and into the very last inch of the goal’s lower right-hand corner to pull MNUFC level at 1-1.
It wouldn’t last. Six minutes later, New England put together a strong string of passes to pull ahead. Midfielder Diego Fagundez struck a low hard pass ahead to forward Lee Nguyen who pushed the ball into the box then tapped it across the goal to find forward Kei Kamara. Kamara calmly netted it to make the score 2-1.
After defender Vadim Demidov was called for the penalty on Fagundez in the 31st minute, Nguyen slotted the penalty kick past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. In the 41st minute, Agudelo completed his brace with a strike from the left side on the assist from Nguyen. Minnesota ended a rugged first half down 4-1 and with just 45% of the possession.
The second half began with Minnesota subbing in forward Abu Danladi and defender Jermaine Taylor for midfielders Bashkim Kadrii and Miguel Ibarra, shifting the formation from the team’s usual 4-2-3-1 to a 5-3-2 with the fullbacks overlapping to push play forward. Initially, it seemed to steady the team, with Brent Kallman notching his first MLS goal in the 49th minute.
“The first half was really, really poor defensively,” said Heath. “Every time they attacked it looked like they were going to score and that’s why we made the change. We had to put an extra body in there just to shore it up a little bit and it seemed to have the desired effect. I thought we were a lot better [in the] second half, but it was a little bit too little, too late.”
Midfielder Mohammed Saeid struck a long free kick into the box from the right side of the field and when Agudelo failed to clear it out of the mouth of the coal, Kallman was there to dink it in.
Any hope for a shift in momentum quickly evaporated in the 53rd minute after Fagundez drew a second penalty for New England when he fell near the edge of the box. Tierney nailed the PK and pushed the lead to 5-2.
“The lads were really disappointed,” said Heath. “I thought he was outside the penalty and as I said we just got to 4-2 getting some momentum in the game so that’s disappointing, but we’ve done it two or three times, every time we scored a goal. We did it last week in Colorado; we’re 2-1 up, two minutes later we give up a goal, its stuff to work on.”
From there on, the Revs were content to hold possession. Although the formation shift helped stabilize Minnesota United, they were rarely able to build possession. The Revolution closed down play on the sides of the pitch and stifled the attack. And so despite the initiative shown in capitalizing on their luck with the two goals, Minnesota were never genuinely able to get comfortable
They now return to Minnesota to play their second home match of the season, facing Real Salt Lake on Saturday, April 1 at 7:00 p.m. CT at TCF Bank Stadium. MNUFC will look to rebound with the return of their players from international call-ups, suspensions and maybe even injury. Catch all the action on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Vadim Demidov, Brent Kallman, Kevin Venegas; M Collen Warner, Ibson, Miguel Ibarra (Abu Danladi 46’), Mohammed Saeid (Collin Martin 63’), Bashkim Kadrii (Jermaine Taylor 46’); F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Billy Heavner; M Ismaila Jome; F Josh Gatt
New England Revolution Starting XI: GK Cody Cropper; D Andrew Farrell, Antonio Mlinar Delamea, Benjamin Angoua, Chris Tierney; M Kelyn Rowe, Scott Caldwell, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo (Teal Bunbury 82’); F Kei Kamara (Femi Hollinger-Janzen 70’), Lee Nguyen (Diego Kobayashi 70’)
NE Unused Subs: GK Brad Knighton; D Je-Vaughn Watson, London Woodberry; M Xavier Koussi
4’ – Agudelo (Tierney, Caldwell) – NE
15’ – Warner (Ramirez) – MIN
21’ – Kamara (Nguyen, Fagundez) – NE
32’ – Nguyen (PK) – NE
41’ – Agudelo (Fagundez) – NE
49’ – Kallman – MIN
53’ – Tierney (PK)