When Minnesota United arrived in Canada to face Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon, they were facing a team on top of the Eastern Conference and winners of five straight. But they were also facing a team on short rest, with Toronto having bested Columbus Crew SC 2-1 in Ohio on Wednesday night. That kind of turnaround had helped them against Sporting KC, but Toronto is also a tremendously deep team. Any way you cut it, the Loons had a tall task in front of them, but they ultimately fought hard in a 3-2 loss that showed they were capable of hanging with the best.
The match started slow, and in the opening minutes, MNUFC struggled to get the ball out of their own half. Movement forward was snuffed out time and again by Toronto’s midfield, leading to 60% possession for the home team through the first 10 minutes.
In the 19th minute, forward Abu Danladi — getting his second consecutive start after making his MLS debut last week — took down midfielder Raheem Edwards in the box as he tracked back to defend a push by Toronto. Toronto was awarded the penalty and forward Sebastian Giovinco, returning from a heel injury that kept him out of the lineup on Wednesday night, lined it up. For the first time in his MLS career, he went straight down the middle, putting it past Bobby Shuttleworth who played the odds but guessed wrong in guessing right.
With Toronto up 1-0, the Loons continued to look more for counterattacks than possession through the middle of the first half. It led to several intriguing opportunities, including a pretty sequence of play from Ibson to Miguel Ibarra to Danladi. Danladi sent the shot wide right, though. After Danladi was taken down just outside the box by midfielder Michael Bradley in the 28th minute, Ibson faked the free kick and left it for defender Francisco Calvo who curled it strongly but too high and right to find net.
In the 43rd minute, bothered by a thigh injury unrelated to the heel trouble that had kept him out against Columbs, Giovinco came off, replaced by forward Jozy Altidore.
Over the final 10 minutes of the first half, MNUFC built up some strong possession, getting their best chance when Ibson again found Ibarra, this time wide open near the edge of the box on the left side. Ibarra squared it up and struck a hard shot that forced a tough save by Alex Bono just before the half. The teams went into the break with Toronto on top 1-0.
The second half opened with a flurry of activity. In the 50th minute, Bradley drove a free kick across the box that found defender Chris Movinga on the far post. His strike was headed away by defender Brent Kallman, but the ball found its way to defender Nick Hagglund’s head. As it floated across the face of goal, the ball ended up inches away from being struck in off the foot of a diving Tosaint Ricketts.
Then just a few minutes later, it was Ibson who once again knocked a beautiful pass ahead to a streaking Danladi. Danladi settled it, protected it and served it smoothly to midfielder Kevin Molino. Molino finished it emphatically to draw the Loons level with Toronto 1-1.
The tie lasted less than two minutes, however, as a Bradley free kick from the left side found its way into the net off of forward Christian Ramirez as he struggled to hold off Movinga on the far post, putting Toronto up 2-1.
“The second goal, it’s going away from the goal,” said Brent Kallman. “It’s not a dangerous position I should just stay on my feet instead of giving away a foul which leads to a goal so, it’s just things like that we’ll learn from it, we’ll move on.”
A save by Bono moments later sent the ‘keeper crashing into Hagglund’s knee. Hagglund gamely struggled to stay in for a few more minutes but ultimately had to get off the field, leaving Toronto with 10 men as play continued. A corner kick by Ibson in the 62nd minute ricocheted into Movinga’s arm, resulting in a handball and penalty kick for MNUFC. Molino’s first strike was along the ground and to Bono’s right, but although Bono stopped it, he couldn’t hang on and Molino easily finished the rebound, giving him his second brace of the season. The score was level again at 2-2.
Three minutes later, Toronto at last managed to get Victor Vazquez — the MLS leader in assists with eight — onto the field to replace Hagglund. As soon as they were back to full-strength, the home team poured it on, consistently winning and keeping possession in their own half, with subs Altidore and Vazquez proving essential as they worked to break the deadlock. The Loons stood up well for a time, including strong blocks from defenders Calvo and Marc Burch to save what would likely have been goals, but the defense couldn’t hold up forever.
In the 77th minute, Altidore put in strong work all along the left side of the box, fighting off first defender Brent Kallman and then Kallman and defender Jerome Thiesson. Thiesson’s clearance bounced back off Altidore and the forward hunted it down near the endline, centering it and finding a waiting Ricketts who speared it home on the header.
“That was a bit of luck to be honest,” said Kallman. “We defended it well, we had it won, it gets cleared off somebody and pops right into [Altidore’s] feet. Then he puts up a good cross for Ricketts who can jump out of the gym so it was a bit unlucky on the last one but it just goes back to, you put yourself in those positions, so we can do better.”
“At the end it was a bit end-to-end, we got caught a couple times but on the whole, I thought we handled them quite well,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “In general, obviously with [Sebastian] Giovinco and at the end with [Jozy] Altidore and [Toisant] Ricketts, they’ve got good players. I’ll have to watch the game again and to see where we are. We’re not going to win a lot of games conceding three, but at least as well we did have a threat going forward.”
With Toronto now up 3-2, Heath went to his bench, putting in holding midfielder Collen Warner for Danladi to shore up the defense in the 78th minute and midfielder Johan Venegas for Ibarra to provide an offensive spark in the 79th. The Loons best look down the stretch came in the 86th minute as a cross found Venegas completely unmarked in the box, but his header sailed wide right.
In the end, the margin between the league-leading Toronto and MNUFC was closer than most would have expected. The match gave Toronto its sixth straight victory, but it also showed how far the Loons have come already this season. Absent a few slip-ups and missed opportunities, this very easily could have been a point or even three for MNUFC.
“The last few weeks they are starting to believe in what we are trying to do,” said Heath. “I think the most important thing, from our point of view, is that we are getting better. We have come to the best team I think, I said before the game that Greg [Vanney] is doing a great job, they are an incredibly well-organized, well-coached team so for us to put this type of performance in from where we were a couple of weeks ago it bodes well for us moving forward.”
"They were pushing," said Toronto Head Coach Greg Vanney. "They were putting guys into some good spots and they created some problems for us. Obviously they kept matching our goals before we were able to give ourselves a two goal lead. We kept having to scrap and claw and push to try and get enough to win the game in the end."
The Loons now fly back north to face LA Galaxy at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, May 21. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN and 1500 ESPN, with pre-match coverage beginning on 1500 ESPN at 3:30 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Marc Burch, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Jerome Thiesson; M Ibson (Ismaila Jome 90’), Sam Cronin, Miguel Ibarra (Johan Venegas 79’), Abu Danladi (Collen Warner 78’), Kevin Molino; F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK John Alvbage; D Jermaine Taylor, Justin Davis; M Rasmus Schuller
Toronto FC Starting XI: GK Alexander Bono; D Nick Hagglund (Victor Vazquez 65’), Chris Mavinga, Jason Hernandez (Eriq Zavaleta 46’) M Raheem Edwards, Armando Cooper, Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, Marco Delgado; F Sebastian Giovinco (Jozy Altidore 44’), Tosaint Ricketts
TOR Unused Subs: GK Clint Irwin; D Steven Beitahour, Justin Morrow; M Jay Chapman
20’ – Giovinco (PK) – TOR
52’ – Molino (Danladi) – MIN
54’ – Ramirez (OG) – TOR
62’ – Molino (PK) – MIN
77’ – Ricketts (Altidore) – TOR
90+’ – Altidore (YC) – TOR