On a beautiful night for soccer in the Twin Cities, Minnesota United came into TCF Bank Stadium to face Real Salt Lake and looking once again for their first win as an MLS team. The two sides went back and forth in a first half that ended in a 1-1 tie, but Minnesota’s offensive firepower proved to be too much in the second half as the team built a three-goal lead in a match they would eventually win 4-2.
Just four minutes in, former MNUFC player (from their NASL era) Luke Mulholland found the back of the net after Francisco Calvo’s header misfired and landed right at the midfielder’s feet. The goal was the fifth that MNUFC had surrendered in the opening 15 minutes of a match this season and it led to an all-too-familiar feeling of playing from behind for the team and their supporters. Fortunately, there were 86 more minutes to play.
“It wasn't the start that we wanted but I thought that showed a lot about the group tonight,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “When you've conceded the goals that we have and then you concede after three minutes through another error … but I think there's been a real buzz about the guys and I'm just so pleased for everybody connected with the team: ownership, supporters, players, everybody. Because it's never easy when you have the start we had, it wasn't going to be easy. But the players have kept going, they've kept coming in every day and training really hard.”
Minnesota United’s attack didn’t flag. Five minutes after the goal, forward Christian Ramirez struck a shot strongly enough that Nick Rimando couldn’t handle it cleanly, but he dealt with it well enough for it to spin harmlessly on the ground before he secured it.
“I knew that if we could stay in it — even when they scored the goal — that we would get opportunities today and we took them at the right times, which is something that's not happened to us before,” said Heath. “And I think we scored at the right time as well, which teams have done against us over the last few weeks. Every time that Salt Lake had a little bit of a foothold in the game, Bobby comes up with a couple of big saves for us before the half and then we go and score again. We had a little bit of luck and one or two things go our way today.”
In the 14th minute, the complexion of the entire game changed when defender Aaron Maund went down with an injury. Real Salt Lake – already thin at the back – were forced to sub in Sunday Stephen (more of a midfielder) and then juggle defensive lines. Chris Wingert (a fullback) slid over to center back alongside rookie Justin Schmidt while Luke Mulholland fell back more into the left back role.
Minnesota went right to work by going directly at the shaky combo of an out-of-position full back and a rookie center back. In the 16th minute, Johan Venegas played the ball into the box and when it ricocheted high off a defender trying to clear it, Molino headed it past Rimando’s outstretched fingers and into the left side of the net.
With the score level at 1-1, the task in front of MNUFC was twofold: find another goal and don’t concede one — a problem they’ve struggled with when they’ve scored. On the second count, they were successful for the remainder of the first half, bolstered by several clutch saves by Bobby Shuttleworth, including one he barely got a pinkie on in the 34th minute when Sebastian Saucedo authoritatively volleyed a shot just outside the six-yard box.
The teams went to the half level, but it was clear that the Claret-and-Cobalt were on their back heels. The biggest question, then, was: Could MNUFC take advantage with the kind of attacking play they’d shown themselves capable of even as they’d struggled through the first four matches of the season?
That question was answered authoritatively in the 52nd minute when Christian Ramirez laid the ball off to Kevin Molino, scooted ahead, then took the return pass before chipping the ball over Rimando — no mean feat when facing off against the keeper with the most shutouts in MLS history and 22 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“As I said to Christian Ramirez,” said Heath, “I'm a big believer in 'You get out of life what you put in.' And the amount of work he's put in, he deserves the goal he got when Rimando made a mistake. But without him challenging the keeper and running 30 yards to do that, he doesn't get that opportunity.”
Perhaps sensing that their only shot was pushing for more offense, RSL subbed in forward Joao Plata for Mullholland, but they were soon overwhelmed by a Minnesota United team that seemed to have found their confidence after their early season struggles.
In the 62nd minute, Rimando mishandled a long ball hit optimistically in his direction by midfielder Bashkim Kadrii and Ramirez was there to pounce on the error, calmly dribbling the ball right up to the net before firing it in to complete his brace. Just six minutes later, Molino stepped to the ballhandler on the right side of the field, dispossessed him, then pushed the ball hard into the box. With a nifty scoop pass to the left, he found Venegas and Venegas slotted it into the back of the net, giving the Loons a comfortable 4-1 lead.
In the 87th minute, forward Yura Movsisyan took advantage of a Minnesota United side whose energy and effort had clearly started to flag with the commanding lead and brought the score to 4-2. There would be no dramatic comeback, though, with Minnesota at last locking up their first win and three points of the season.
Asked when he felt he could relax and know the victory was in hand, Heath responded: “When he blew the whistle. I'm serious. Because when they score the next goal, you know what it's like and I thought please God not another one of these. Just don't let them get another chance. I'm pleased for the players. Knowing them, they're all young guys, they read social media. I'm an old guy who's not involved in social media — don't read it, don't read newspaper. So it doesn't really affect me as much as I know it will them. I'm really pleased that they've had a really positive result. Everybody's happy. It's the first win in the club's history in MLS. But we have to move on.”
The work starts all over again for them as they look ahead to a road match against Dallas FC on Saturday, April 8 at 7:00 p.m. CT. 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 Justin Davis, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Jerome Thiesson; M Collen Warner, Ibson, Bashkim Kadrii, Johan Venegas (Rasmus Schuller 90’), Kevin Molino (Miguel Ibarra 80’); F Christian Ramirez (Abu Danladi 77’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK John Alvbage; D Jermaine Taylor, Vadim Demidov; M Ismaila Jome
Real Salt Lake Starting XI: GK Nick Rimando; D Aaron Maund (Sunday Stephen 13’), Justin Schmidt, Demar Phillips, Chris Wingert; M Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland (Joao Plata 60’), Brooks Lennon, Albert Rusnak, Sebastian Saucedo (Luis Silva 77’); F Yura Movsisyan
RSL Unused Subs: GK Matt Van Oekel; D Danilo Acosta; M Jose Hernandez; F Ricardo Velazco
4’ – Mulholland – RSL
16’ – Molino – MIN
52’ – Ramirez (Molino) – MIN
62’ – Ramirez – MIN
68’ – J. Venegas (Molino) – MIN
87’ – Movsisyan (Silva) – RSL
20’ – Molino (YC) – MIN
34’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN
49’ – Movsisyan (YC) – RSL