The Loons endured a rocky start to their week away in Canada, falling to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 3-0 in a match that vaulted Vancouver past its Cascadia Cup rival Seattle and Portland for first place in the Western Conference.
Vancouver got after it early, jumping all over an early miscue to open the scoring. In the fifth minute, the ball looked like it was headed out of bounds along the right side, but Whitecaps FC kept it in, leading to a beautiful long ball ahead from midfielder Marcel de Jong that settled at midfielder Yordy Reyna’s feet. Reyna calmly buried it with the right foot and the Loons found themselves trailing within the first five minutes of a match for the second time in a week.
“First one, we spoke about it [before the match],” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We must have showed 20 clips of the ball in behind with this pace they’ve got up front. So we don’t heed that lesson, and then it’s in the back of the net.”
Over the course of the first 15 minutes, Vancouver dominated play with speed and aggression, pushing the pace on the break — not really a surprise or the team with the lowest average percentage of possession in MLS. The Loons worked the ball around from their defensive third to the midfield, but found themselves jammed up there, particularly by the work of de Jong, who contributed several key tackles and takeaways through the first half.
In the 31st minute, Whitecaps FC struck again as midfielder Brek Shea swung out wide left to receive Reyna’s pass on the counterattack. Shea struck a hard cross directly across the face of goal and forward Erik Hurtado was right on time to finish and give the home side a 2-0 lead. On the play, defender Brent Kallman banged his knee into goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth’s head, but Shuttleworth would ultimately stay in the game.
“The second one, very naïve,” said Heath. “Between both boxes, we probably had as much possession, as much control as them. But the harsh reality is that both boxes is where it matters and we were second best in both of them.”
At the half, Minnesota led several key categories — possession (61% to 39%), crosses, corners, passes overall and passing accuracy — but it was Vancouver who led in that most important of statistics, the score. Recently, the Loons have been increasingly relying on long balls over the top to break open opposing defenses, but those weren’t there for them tonight and they seemed at a loss as how to adjust.
The second half started with some opportunities for Minnesota, including a good look from midfielder Ethan Finlay in the 50th minute as defender Jerome Thiesson’s pass found him floating between the center and left backs. He turned and fired but the ball went wide left.
Despite the score, Shuttleworth had a strong performance, turning away several difficult shots including during an offensive flurry from Whitecaps FC that saw three shots directly in front of goal turned away by Shuttleworth, Thiesson and midfielder Collen Warner in the span of about ten seconds. Shuttleworth would again stand tall later in the match when he saved a header by forward Bernie Ibisi-Isei off a corner kick in the 70th minute and then shut down Shea’s cross moments later.
In the 62nd minute, Joe Greenspan had to come in for an injured Brent Kallman and almost immediately, the ball caught him on the arm as he worked to defend a long outlet pass. At first it looked like it might be a penalty, but the foul happened just outside of the box and Shea’s free kick came to naught as it bounced harmlessly off the wall.
In the 72nd minute, forward Christian Ramirez came in for his first action since going down with a hamstring injury against D.C. United in early August. The offensive spark couldn’t be found, though, and the Loons ended up conceding a late goal to Shea when he finished off a cross from forward Fredy Montero in the 88th minute to fall 3-0.
“Every game is important for us,” said Heath. “It’s going to be very difficult for us, but we have to keep playing for a lot of things. We’re playing for a lot of pride, and playing for positions and players to be here next year. If you go on the road, you can’t play like we’ve done tonight and expect to win. We’ve had a couple of really good performances on the road the last couple of weeks — away in Chicago, played really well in Seattle. Tonight wasn’t one of them nights.”
MNUFC will get one more chance to use up the Canadian coins they’ve been getting as they head east to face Montreal Impact on Saturday, September 16. That match gets underway at 6:30 p.m. CT with coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m. on FOX9+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman (Joe Greenspan 62’), Ismaila Jome; M Collen Warner, Ibson, Ethan Finlay, Sam Nicholson (Christian Ramirez 72’), Johan Venegas; F Abu Danladi
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; D Marc Burch; M Collin Martin, Miguel Ibarra; F Brandon Allen
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Starting XI: GK David Ousted; D Jakob Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Marcel de Jong; M Russell Teibert, Tony Tchani, Alphonso Davies (Nicolas Mezquida 80’), Yordy Reyna (Bernie Ibini-Isei63’), Brek Shea; F Erik Hurtado (Fredy Montero 72’)
VAN Unused Subs: GK Stefan Marinovic; D Sheanon Williams; M Andrew Jacobson, Christian Techera
5’ – Reyna (de Jong) – VAN
31’ – Hurtado (Shea, Reyna) – VAN
88’ – Shea (Montero) – VAN
45’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN
52’ – Warner (YC) – MIN