In its first home match in over a month, Minnesota United FC faced a Philadelphia Union team looking to break a four-match winless streak. While the Loons started flat, they eventually rallied to draw level, but ultimately, neither team could gain the upper hand down the stretch and each had to settle for a point in a 1-1 draw in front of Minnesota’s second sellout crowd in a row.
Early on, the Loons looked disorganized. Passes went awry, whether out of the backfield or on through balls; clearances were denied; nothing looked crisp or connected. Philadelphia pounced on this ho-hum start, opening their account in the fifth minute when midfielder Fabrice-Jean Picault struck a low cross from the right wing and found forward C.J. Sapong clear of his man on the far post. Sapong drilled it into the back of the net for a quick 1-0 lead for the visitors.
“Couldn’t have started any worse than we did,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “First 15 minutes it was a comedy of errors. And conceivably, could have been further down than the one. I thought we grew into the game after that. And I thought, after 20, 25 minutes, I thought we were probably the most dominant team. Started to get some proper possession. Started to look as though we were a threat going forward.”
For the next quarter of an hour, the Union jumped on nearly every MNUFC pass, partly through aggressive play and partly through Minnesota’s own imprecision. For their part, the Loons began to try to break the match open with long through balls into the final third. The team’s first quality chance came in the 18th minute after forward Abu Danladi dinked a pass off the side of his foot and over to an onrushing Sam Nicholson who fired a rocket that just caught goalkeeper Andre Blake’s fingertips, but it was enough to send the ball wide right.
In the 20th minute, Philadelphia nearly doubled the lead off a corner kick when midfielder Chris Pontius’ shot from point blank range almost snuck inside the far post and just as narrowly missed Sapong’s outstretched foot for a deflection. The visitors continued to close down on the ball effectively while the home side sought to crack an opening down the left wing with the combo of defender Francisco Calvo overlapping and wingers Sam Nicholson and Kevin Molino working the ball.
Their approach paid dividends in the 40th minute. Calvo got the ball outside of the box on the left wing and went to work, putting the Union defenders in a meat grinder with a sweet Maradona that spun him into position for a look at goal. His shot was rejected by Blake, but midfielder Ethan Finlay was there to give it another go. His was also rejected but when it bounced off defender Giliano Wijnaldum, the ball once again found its way to Finlay’s feet and this time he would not be denied. His goal drew MNUFC level and gave him two goals and two assists in the three matches he’s played since coming over from Columbus Crew SC.
“Francisco [Calvo] did a little pirouette on the ball, like he sometimes does,” said Heath. “I’m pleased it was in their box, rather than ours. But, no, hey, I thought at that particular time that we were gaining momentum. And I thought after the first 15, 20 minutes, I thought it was pretty much even, but we were most likely. And then most of the second half, I thought we were the most likely.”
The second half began with a flurry of corner kicks for Minnesota United with the team racking up five in the first five minutes. Nothing came of them, but it augured well for MNUFC going forward into a half of soccer where the Loons generated more momentum than they had in the first half.
In the 55th minute, defender Oguchi Onyewu drew a yellow card for tripping Finlay in the open field, a foul that looked briefly like it would undo Philadelphia entirely when Onyewu appeared to draw another yellow for a handball in the box seven minutes later. Initially, Onyewu was shown the red following his second yellow and it looked like MNUFC would get a penalty kick. But upon video review, it was determined that Onyewu was pushed in the back prior to the handball, negating the foul, leaving Onyewu in the match and taking away an opportunity for MNUFC to pull ahead.
As the match stretched on, the play went more end-to-end, with each team looking for the opening that would give them all three points. Jose Leiton got his first minutes in an MNUFC kit when he came on to replace Nicholson in the 75th minute alongside his countryman Johan Venegas who came on for Molino. In stoppage time, goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth was called on to keep the score level and then moments later, the Loons had a goal called back because of forward Abu Danladi getting called offside. In the end, there was nothing between the teams and the two sides had to settle for a point apiece in a 1-1 draw.
“Our forward players were not as sharp as I probably would have liked,” said Heath. “And I thought we made poor choices at times. Final ball wasn’t the right choice. We ran with it at times when we should have passed it, and then we passed it when we should have ran with it. It was one of them nights. A ‘nearly’ night as I sometimes call them. I said to the guys, we were nearly very good in a lot of occasions. But that wasn’t enough. And it was one of them, I don't think the draw does either of us any good. I just spoke to Jim [Curtin] there, and, and he, same. They needed three points, and we did. And that was probably why it was as end to end as it was, again.”
MNUFC next heads to Canada for two matches in one week as the team tangles with Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday, September 13 at 9:00 p.m. CT and Montreal Impact on Saturday, September 16 at 6:30 p.m. CT. Both those matches will be broadcast on FOX9+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN with pre-match coverage beginning a half-hour prior to kickoff.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo; M Collen Warner, Ibson, Ethan Finlay, Sam Nicholson (Jose Leiton 75’), Kevin Molino (Johan Venegas 75’); F Abu Danladi
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; D Joe Greenspan M Ismaila Jome, Collin Martin, Miguel Ibarra
Philadelphia Union Starting XI: GK Andre Blake; D Jack Elliot, Keegan Rosenberry, Oguchi Onyewu, Giliano Wijnaldum; M Warren Creavalle, Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault (Roland Alberg 57’), Ilsinho (Jose Leiton 79’), Chris Pontius (Charlie Davis 90+‘); F C.J. Sapong
PHI Unused Subs: GK John McCarty; D Raymon Gaddis, Richie Marquez; M Derrick Jones
5’ – Sapong (Picault) – PHI
40’ – Finlay (unassisted) – MIN
38’ – Wijnaldum (YC) – PHI
55’ – Onyewu (YC) – PHI
60’ – Ilsinho (YC) – PHI