Hoping for a measure of revenge, Minnesota United FC ran it back against Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field and for much of the match, it looked like the upstart Loons would pull off a difficult draw on the road against the reigning MLS champs but it was not to be. In stoppage time, Sounders FC earned a penalty kick and won the match 2-1.
“If we can compete the way we did tonight, I’ll be really pleased,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We’ve got 10 games left now, only three at home, so we’re going to have to go one or two tough places on the road but if we can show the same organization and commitment that we did tonight, we’ll pick up a couple wins before the end of the season.”
The match began brightly for Minnesota with the Loons earning their first corner kick just two minutes into the match. Midfielder Sam Nicholson lined it up in the right corner and a header got it across the box to a waiting Francisco Calvo — playing left back instead of his usual center back — who drilled a volley that couldn’t find the net. They got another corner a few minutes later that came to nothing, but in the first 10 minutes, it was clear that MNUFC had the initiative.
In spite of that, a seasoned side like Seattle was not going to lie down and take it. They worked a lot of long diagonal balls out of the midfield and into the final third, opening up opportunities that led to things like a corner kick in the ninth minute that found Roman Torres wide open in front of goal, although his diving header went high over the crossbar.
As the match evolved, Sounders FC began to establish its ability to get the ball into dangerous areas, while MNUFC showed its resolve in the run of play by stymieing those opportunities calmly. Both Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman shut down openings without conceding corners. Nonetheless, there was a sense that the weight of the match was beginning to shift toward Seattle in the second ten minutes.
But then, midfielder Ethan Finlay — playing in his first match in a Minnesota kit — scored his first goal in 18 matches in the 21st minute. Midfielder Ibson got a timely pass off to a streaking Finlay who settled the ball and squeezed it past goalkeeper Stefan Frei and just inside the post on the left side of the goal.
“It was a great ball by Ibson, great recognition and it’s been a long time coming,” said Finlay. “This is a team that’s struggled this year and I think by bringing in some of the pieces that they have throughout the season, they’re looking to bring guys in who have some experience and who are going to better this club on and off the field. That’s no different than what Sam [Cronin] and March Burch were asked to do. The guys they brought in, those guys are still getting used to it. Everything is still very fresh for everyone, but I hope to bring good performances and bring energy. I thought we weathered that storm pretty well in the second half and I’d like to think I helped that. If we can make that contagious around the club, we’ll do just fine.”
Coming against the run of play as it did, the 1-0 lead clearly buoyed the Minnesota players, with forward Abu Danladi narrowly missing a chance to double the team’s lead just minutes later. After getting around Torres on a long lead pass, Danladi struck it just wide right, coming close enough to hit Frei’s AdvoCare bottle lying just next to the post in the process.
In the 25th minute, Danladi again threatened when midfielder Kevin Molino set him up with a cross from the left wing, but the ball was too close to Frei and Danladi went over Frei and into the goal itself, earning himself a yellow card for not pulling up as he attacked.
In the 31st minute, though, Seattle’s persistence paid off. Midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro lined up a free kick on the right wing that found defender Chad Marshall umarked in the box after Boxall lost his footing. Marshall buried the header and leveled the score at 1-1.
Through the remainder of the first half, MNUFC acquitted itself admirably, turning back attack after attack while occasionally managing to set up players in dangerous positions. Ultimately, there was nothing between the sides in the first 45, though, and the teams headed into the break deadlocked — a result Minnesota was happy to take against a team that had shelled them 4-0 two weeks previously.
The Loons’ best chance to score in the second half came quickly. Abu Danladi got wide open on the right side of the box after a turnover in the 51st minute but lost the ball to Frei in a one-on-one that could have put MNUFC on top.
“I thought [Danladi] looked dangerous all evening and he’s devastated with himself in there because he’s had really good opportunities tonight and chances that he normally buries,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “As I’ve said to him, if he keeps getting in the right spots, goals will come for him.”
After that opportunity, the match settled into a back-and-forth rhythm that found Sounders FC layering pressure onto Minnesota’s defense, which bent but refused to break for much of the second half. Overall Seattle held 63.7% of the possession and took nearly three times as many shots as Minnesota (21 to eight). Despite those statistical disparities, it looked for a long time like the Loons would be able to grit out a point from a rugged road match against the defending champs.
Heath even brought on defender Jermaine Taylor for midfielder Kevin Molino in the 77th minute, shifting the team’s formation to five in the back in the hopes of parking the bus and maybe eking out a breakaway goal from the speedy Danladi. Down the stretch, the Loons turned back attack after attack as the clock counted up to stoppage time, but then at the very last moment, their evening was spoiled.
A flurry of shots in the box in the third minute of three minutes of stoppage time led to a deflection that bounced off Brent Kallman and settled at the feet of Clint Dempsey who struck a shot that glanced off of Taylor’s arm. Taylor was given the yellow card, Dempsey lined up the penalty shot and struck it confidently into the right side of the goal. Shuttleworth got a hand on it, but couldn’t stop the ball from finding the back of the net, turning a draw and a point into a loss in an instant.
“There’s a lot of quality on this roster,” said Finlay. “It’s putting it together for 90 minutes during a game and as a collective. You see the individual quality that we have to make great individual plays. Tonight, it is what it is. It’s just this cruel game that we play that rips our heart out. But I thought we had some solid performances and this is one of the toughest places to play and to weather the storm the way we did was brilliant for most of the evening. We did 92 minutes tonight and we needed 93.”
MNUFC will look to put this disheartening loss behind it as the team heads east to face the Chicago Fire on Saturday, August 26 at Toyota Park. Pre-match coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. CT on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo; M Sam Cronin, Ibson (Collen Warner 90’, Ethan Finlay, Sam Nicholson (Miguel Ibarra 82’), Kevin Molino (Jermaine Taylor 77’); F Abu Danladi
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; M Ismaila Jome; F Brandon Allen
Seattle Sounders FC Starting XI: GK Stefan Frei; D Kelvin Leerdam, Roman Torres, Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall; M Osvaldo Alonso, Gustav Svensson (Will Bruin 65’), Nicolas Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey, Cristian Roldan; F Jordan Morris (Nouhou Tolo 83’)
SEA Unused Subs: GK Tyler Miller; D Tony Alfaro; M Harry Shipp, Victor Rodriguez; F Jordy Delem
21’ – Finlay (Ibson) – MIN
31’ – Marshall (Lodeiro) – SEA
90+’ – Dempsey (PK) – SEA
25’ – Danladi (YC) – MIN
90+’ – Taylor (YC) – MIN