Heading back to Texas for the second time in two weeks, MNUFC wanted to build on a performance against FC Dallas that was much better than the 2-0 final score would indicate. Although they fell behind early, goals by Christian Ramirez and Johan Venegas to open the second half got them a much-needed point against a Houston Dynamo team that had been undefeated at home prior to tonight.
MNUFC looked good in the early going, with Kevin Molino playing physical on the right side of the pitch and shielding the ball with his body. But about ten minutes in, Houston started finding its groove by catching MNUFC napping. First it was off a long throw from Adolfo Machado on the right side of the pitch that got all the way into the box and forced Bobby Shuttleworth to make a crack save on a header by Mauro Manotas.
The next miscue was more deadly. Ricardo Clark got off a quick throw-in along the right side and found Erick Torres streaking up the wing. Torres lanced it in to Manotas who settled it quickly, whirled and fired it into the back of the net for a 1-0 Dynamo lead.
Houston’s high press kept the pressure on MNUFC, but it also opened some counterattacking opportunities. In the 17th minute, Christian Ramirez broke ahead through the middle of the field for a shot that went wide right. Two minutes later he made another run and got taken down in the box but didn’t draw the penalty. Then seven minutes later, Kevin Molino sent a beauty of a curling pass low from the right wing that Ramirez couldn’t get a clean boot on to finish. Add in a chip of the goalie that sailed over the crossbar and you had a clutch of chances that he would finish on just about any night.
“The guys behind me kept rallying me and telling me I was going to get more chances,” Ramirez said. “And I believed it.”
The play in the midfield was loose through much of the first half, with both teams striking back and forth without a lot of forthright possession either way. Then, in the 43rd minute, Rasmus Schuller had to leave the pitch with an injury and MNUFC brought in Miguel Ibarra. Directly off the restart, Alberth Elis got his chance to make up for drifting offside a few minutes earlier by holding his position long enough to get off a volley that found the back of the net. Unfortunately for MNUFC, his knee also found Bobby Shuttleworth’s face, forcing the Loons to put in John Alvbage just before a halftime whistle that would find Houston leading 2-0.
"You’re thinking ‘here we go again’ you know," said Head Coach Adrian Heath about the injuries. "Because every time you think you have subs we can use later in the game and all of a sudden we only have one. It is what it is. The lads had dug themselves out of a really big hole and they can be pleased with that work."
The complexion of the match changed almost entirely from the kickoff that started the second half. In the 47th minute, MNUFC won a corner kick and Molino’s service into Ramirez on the far post was crispy, allowing Ramirez to head it in just over Joe Willis. With the lead cut in half, the Loons went to work on a Houston side that looked discombobulated. The looseness that had personified the midfield in the first half persisted, but only for the Dynamo.
"I just told them that the next goal was really important," said Heath about his halftime message. "Go get the next goal, we have proved that we can play here. We proved that we can create chances and if we get the next goal it changes – goals change the whole complexion of the game. Obviously if they would have gone to 3-0 it would have gone the other way."
In the 60th minute, Kevin Molino pushed the ball all the way to the edge of the six-yard box on the right side. His cross was deflected, but Johan Venegas netted a volley into the left side of the goal and leveled the score at 2-2. Houston simply couldn’t get anything consistent going in the second half, try as they might. After taking 12 shots in the first half, they managed just 1 in the first 25+ minutes of the second.
As the match approached the final 15, MNUFC settled down a bit after dishing out a tremendous amount of energy to draw level. Brent Kallman got his head on the ball to foil a cross streaking directly for Torres’ foot in the 76th minute and then in the 86th minute he took a good yellow card just outside the box as he stood up Romell Quioto, stopping the late sub from getting into the penalty area without drawing the penalty kick.
“We've just got to put together 90 minutes,” said Ramirez. “I think today we put together a good 60 with a lull for both goals and that's stuff that we have to clean up. But as we get more time together and incorporate the guys who we just got, those results will turn our way.”
All in all, after a bevy of chances by Ramirez went begging in the first half, the Loons settled in and fought back in the second half, earning a hard-won point on the road against a team that was 3-0-0 at home going into the match. Next, MNUFC returns to Minnesota to start a three-match homestand beginning with the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, April 23 at TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. and you can catch pre-match coverage on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN beginning at 4:30 p.m. For tickets, go to MNUFC.COM or call 763.4SOCCER.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth (John Alvbage 45‘+); D Jerome Thiesson, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo, Marc Burch; M Sam Cronin, Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller (Miguel Ibarra 43’), Kevin Molino (Abu Danladi 90’); F Johan Venegas, Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: D Justin Davis, Jermaine Taylor; M Ibson, Bashkim Kadrii
Houston Dynamo Starting XI: GK Joe Willis; D Boniek Garcia, Adolfo Machado, Jalil Anibaba, DaMarcus Beasley; M Ricardo Clark (Kevin Garcia 59’), Eric Alexander, Alex; F Alberth Elis (Romell Quito 77’), Erick Torres, Mauro Manotas (Vincente Sanchez 61’)
HOU Unused Subs: GK Tyler Deric; M Andrew Wenger, Joseph Holland, Juan Cabezas
14’ – Manotas (Torres, Clark) – HOU
43’ – Elis (Garcia) – HOU
47’ – Ramirez (Molino) – MIN
59’ – J. Venegas – MIN
35’ – Thiesson (YC) – MIN
86’ – Kallman (YC) – MIN
90+’ – J. Venegas (YC) – MIN