With a low fog rolling in over the pitch, Minnesota United kicked off its stint at the Carolina Challenge Cup with a match against the hosts, the Charleston Battery. Although MNUFC won the possession battle, Charleston’s defense held fast and a last-minute goal at the end of the first half was the difference maker as the Loons fell 1-0 to the home side.
Wearing their old primary kits from last year, the Loons took the pitch and immediately began dominating possession. Minnesota United looked content to cycle the ball around, often working it all the way back to defender Francisco Calvo so he could initiate the attack out of the backfield. Midfielders Ethan Finlay, Sam Nicholson and Kevin Molino set up shop outside of the box but their poking and prodding came to naught early on.
Defender Tyrone Mears — a new addition to the lineup this season — featured on set pieces in the first half, his first coming on a free kick in the 10th minute. It was evident early on that the slick surface was going to be an issue as midfielder Sam Cronin went to ground in the 15th minute, followed by a host of other players throughout the match.
After the first 20 minutes, the dynamic of the match shifted as MNUFC relaxed a little in possession and Charleston took advantage by getting the ball forward more reliably. The first shot of the match came from the Battery in the 21st minute but it was handily parried away by goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Overall, Minnesota struggled to unlock the speed of midfielders Nicholson and Finlay and forward Abu Danladi in the first half. None of their speedier players could find the seams to get in behind the defense, although Finlay put in a lot of work down the stretch. Aided by a beautiful outside-of-the-boot lob from Ibson, Finlay drifted back to the far post late in the half but his pass back to the middle got turned away by a Charleston defender.
It looked for all the world like the teams would head to the break level, but in stoppage time, the Loons relaxed just enough in their own half to allow a shot on goal that found its way into the back of the net via a deflection. There was little that Shuttleworth could do and the Charleston Battery headed into the half with a 1-0 lead.
“I don’t know whether it was because we worked so hard in the training sessions, but we looked really lethargic and lifeless, really,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Lackluster. I thought we never troubled them with the first group. I thought we played a lot of safe football in the middle third, didn’t take any risks, combination play wasn’t good enough and I thought on the whole we played too slow.”
MNUFC took the pitch with a brand new 11 for the second half, giving fans their first chance to see newcomers Wyatt Omsberg, Carter Manley, Frantz Pangop and Mason Toye in action. The fresh lineup came out with more energy and drive than the first group had, perhaps owing to what Adrian Heath characterized at the half as an intense week of training. The team came out in a more traditional 4-4-2 with Toye and forward Christian Ramirez up top instead of the team’s more customary 4-2-3-1.
The fog that draped the pitch earlier had also dissipated, giving viewer a much clearer view of the action, although the surface stayed slippery. The scoring opportunities picked up immediately for Minnesota United. In the 66th minute, Ramirez got his foot on the ball on the left side of the box and did his best to curve it in around his defender, but he couldn’t get it all the way around and it sailed wide right.
The Loons’ best opportunity of the night came in the 78th minute when it looked like Ramirez got around defender Thomas Mueller at the edge of the box, but Mueller managed to get a toe on the ball despite going to the ground and stymied Ramirez’s attack. Unfortunately for the visitors, whatever momentum they had started to build stalled out after midfielder Collen Warner was sent off with his second yellow in the 83rd minute. Warner was forced to stop a breakaway from Charleston, leaving the Loons with 10 men.
Encouragingly, all of Manley, Omsberg, Pangop and Toye showed flashes of drive and creativity during their shift.
“[The rookies] have done fine,” said Heath. “When I look at the performances of Carter and Wyatt and Mason, they can be pleased. It’s a big step up for them. The Battery are what you class as a minor league team, but they’ve got a couple of internationals playing for them. They can be pleased with their performance and they were the least of our worries on the evening.”
In the end, MNUFC couldn’t find the equalizer, giving Charleston a 1-0 win. Up next, MNUFC faces Atlanta United on Wednesday, February 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the team’s second match of the Carolina Challenge Cup. The match will be streamed on MNUFC.COM and broadcast on BeIN Sports.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Tyrone Mears, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Jerome Thiesson; M Sam Cronin, Ibson, Ethan Finlay, Kevin Molino, Sam Nicholson; F Abu Danladi
MIN Second Half XI: GK Matt Lampson; D Carter Manley, Brent Kallman, Wyatt Omsberg, Marc Burch; Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller, Miguel Ibarra, Frantz Pangop; F Mason Toye, Christian Ramirez
Charleston Battery Starting XI: GK Cooper; D Griffith (Bolt 46’), Mueller, Thomas (Bjornethun 66’), van Schaik (Woodbine 46’); M Hackshaw (Mansaray 46’), Anunga (Arambula 46’), Rittmeyer (Caldena 46’), Guerra (Okonkwo 46’), Higashi (Jeon 58’); F Sventesson (Murphy 46’) (Sanchez 79’)
45+’ – Sventesson – CHS
31’ – Mueller (YC) – CHS
35’ – Nicholson (YC) – MIN
45’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN
47’ – Warner (YC) – MIN
56’ – Okonkwo (YC) – CHS
83’ – Warner (2YC) – MIN