In front of a fourth-straight sellout crowd of 23,060, Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City played a rugged, gritty match on Saturday night. Both teams were shorthanded with multiple starters away for international duty. The Loons packed the house for Fan Appreciation Day at its last home match of the year, and after conceding a goal just before the half, came back to tie the match on a header from Brent Kallman. Neither team could take all three and the home side and visitors would have to settle for a 1-1 draw.
“Considering it was the third game in a week, I can’t fault them for their effort,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I thought first half we showed them a little bit too much respect from the start of the game. But I thought after the first 10 or 12 minutes, we actually dominated for about 20, 25 minutes. I think every one of them has given everything they physically and mentally got. They got themselves out of the hole, and you know, got the goal. And I actually thought we might go on to win the game. We took so many chances, but hey, I said to them, let’s go and win the game. A point is going to do us no good.”
The early going saw Sporting Kansas City controlling possession and putting balls into the box, but Minnesota United was up to the task. Although SKC won its first corner just a minute into the match, the Loons’ backline — anchored by Joe Greenspan and Brent Kallman with Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo away on international duty — stood tall as Kansas City put on the pressure.
When Minnesota did get possession, it often found itself stymied in the middle of the pitch, perhaps not used to having to work the ball over the top in tonight’s 4-4-2 formation, a departure from the team’s customary 4-3-2-1. Without that additional midfielder, the team found it difficult to get the ball into the final third.
“I thought after the first 10 or 12 minutes when we actually started to play forward,” said Heath, “and make use of the fact that we had got two forwards up there, rather than a three in midfield, we did okay. And as I’ve just said to the boys, sometimes you have to play to the game that’s given to you. You know, it’s not always about lovely passing movement. Sometimes you have to get the ball forward and make it uncomfortable for people and take throw-ins and take corners and go from there. And when we made the game a little bit uglier in the first and second half, I thought we were better. It’s not a way that you like to play, but sometimes you have to play like that to get yourself in the game.”
The match was also marked by a little chippiness from both sides, starting with midfielder Ilie Sanchez slapping the ball away from midfielder Ethan Finlay in the 25th minute. But gradually, Minnesota figured out how to get the ball to its forwards and opportunities opened up. In the 34th minute, forward Abu Danladi got the ball to midfielder Miguel Ibarra for a strike that goalkeeper Tim Melia had to tip over the crossbar.
Any momentum the home side was building, though, got derailed after forward Latif Blessing went down dramatically on the wing after being challenged by defender Joe Greenspan in the next minute. Sporting Kansas City’s trainers spent some time with him, though, and he appeared to bounce back quickly.
In the last few minutes of the first half, Kansas City put together a few attacking runs, earning a free kick in the 42nd minute that forward Diego Rubio sent just over the upper left corner and getting a few chances in quick succession that got turned away and then a long strike off a deflection that kept rising over the bar in the 44th.
SKC opened the scoring in stoppage time when Diego Rubio muscled his way through a gaggle of Minnesota defenders and smashed a shot past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who hadn’t really been challenged through the entire first half. The teams combined for just two shots on goal in the first 45 and went into the break with nearly even possession, 51% for Minnesota to 49% for Sporting KC.
“I thought we had a good response in the second half,” said Heath. “As much as they had a couple of chances, I don’t think Bobby [Shuttleworth] had a save to make in the first half. I can’t recall one, anyway. So as much as they had possession in our half of the field, I thought our general shape of defending the goal was very good.”
Once the teams came back from halftime, Minnesota began to find some success with long diagonal balls picking out its two forwards at the top of the pitch. In the 56th minute, Melia went down with a non-contact hamstring injury, forcing SKC to put in goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra and the Loons immediately showed a bit more life.
Nevertheless, SKC proved resilient and looked content to play for possession and hang on to the 1-0 lead. By the 80th minute, though, it was clear that Dykstra could be tested as a number of plays saw him panicking a bit as the ball came in to him. Minnesota went to its bench and put in another attacker in forward Brandon Allen after they had put in midfielder Sam Nicholson, with defender Jerome Thiesson moving to right back. It was clear that the Loons were preparing to throw everything forward.
The move paid dividends in the 84th minute. After a reset for a free kick, Danladi got the ball on the left wing and then centered it into the box, finding defender Brent Kallman for a header that went directly over Dykstra to level the teams at 1-1.
In the match’s waning minutes, each time found itself with chances, but neither could convert them. The Loons were hurt by Greenspan being sent off in the 90th minute after a second yellow card, but Shuttleworth stood tall against numerous chances while the team overall struggled to get decent possession in Kansas City’s half. In the end, each team would have to settle for a point in Minnesota’s final match of the season at TCF Bank Stadium.
“For me, the pleasing thing has been the relationship, the growth between the players and the fans,” said Heath. “You can see that really, really coming to the fore now. And as I said at the end, we’ve had a good first year. I don’t think after the first three or four weeks anybody thought we’d be where we are. But we, you know, we know that’s not what we’re after. We want to be even more competitive. We’ve got a lot of things to do in the next few months. We’ve got two games to play. I want to go and try and win them. But after that, then we have to look at where we’re going to be for next year. What are we going to do? Where we need to improve. And give these great fans a team they can be proud of next year. “
Minnesota United next heads to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy on Sunday, October 15 in a match that starts at 3:00 p.m. CT. Pre-match coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. on FOX 9+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Joe Greenspan, Brent Kallman, Marc Burch (Sam Nicholson 79’); M Ibson, Collin Martin (Collen Warner 79’), Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra (Brandon Allen 81’); F Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi
MIN Unused Subs: GK Patrick McLain; D Ismaila Jome, Kevin Venegas; M Jose Leiton
Sporting Kansas City Starting XI: GK Tim Melia (Andrew Dykstra 59’); D Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic; M Roger Espinoza, Ille Sanchez, Jimmy Medranda; F Gerso Fernandes, Diego Rubio, Latif Blessing
SKC Starting XI: D Amer Didic; M Soni Mustivar, Cristian Lobato, Tyler Pasher; F Kharlton Belmar, Daniel Salloi
45+’ – Rubio (Blessing) – SKC
84’ – Kallman (Danladi) – MIN
41’ – Thiesson (YC) – MIN
70’ – Sinovic (YC) – SKC
72’ – Dykstra (YC) – SKC
86’ – Greenspan (YC) – MIN
90+’ – Greenspan (2YC) – MIN