Despite falling behind and having to go to the bench early on the road, Minnesota United fought back in the waning minutes of its season opener against the San Jose Earthquakes with a pair of goals from Kevin Molino in the 81st and 85th minutes to turn a 3-0 rout into a tight 3-2 loss. Throughout, the team showed flashes of creativity, and the energy and grit showcased in the final ten minutes give them something to build on as they head into the rest of the season.
“They didn’t give in,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “At 3-nil it’s very easy to shut up shop and don’t try and go forward, but they kept going forward, they kept moving the ball well. I always thought that at some stage we would get chances. When it went to 3-2 it was a bit of a nervy end for them in the end.”
At first, the teams felt if not even, at least evenly matched in terms of aggressiveness and intensity. MNUFC got after the ball with a high press, but so did San Jose and gradually, the momentum shifted toward the Quakes. In the 14th minute, forward Danny Hoesen got a quick shot off after the Quakes intercepted the ball coming out of Minnesota’s half and that play augured what would become an onslaught for the home side.
In the 22nd minute, midfielder Magnus Erikkson — who came over to the Quakes in the offseason after a year in which he scored 14 goals and won the Golden Boot in Sweden’s Allsvenskan — fired a shot from outside the box that went straight at Lampson. Minutes later, forward Chris Wondolowski got off a quick strike that went wide of the near post on the right side, but it was clear that San Jose was starting to break down the defense.
It didn’t help that Minnesota struggled to maintain possession, often giving the ball up cheaply, and that forward Abu Danladi came up lame after a strong run into the box midway through the half. He stayed on and tried to work through it, but in the meantime, San Jose struck twice in short order.
In the 28th minute, midfielder Vako approached down the left wing and swung a quick pass into the middle of the field to find a waiting Hoesen who calmly drilled the ball into the back of the net to put the Quakes up 1-0. Almost directly off the restart, Wondolowski cut off a pass from the backfield and took it down the right wing, swinging the ball in past a streaking Hoesen on the near post and to a waiting Vako on the far post. Vako put it in and doubled the San Jose’s lead.
“We gave it away again, didn’t we?” said Heath about the second goal. “Twenty-five minutes into the first half, we had control of the game, I thought we were comfortable in the match and then we conceded and then gave away another within two minutes and gave ourselves a mountain to climb. We do that too much, we do it too often, we’ve done it before. We just have to reset the button once it goes to 1-nil and keep doing what we were doing.”
In the 29th minute, Danladi came off for forward Christian Ramirez, but for the final 15 minutes, it was all MNUFC could do to hold off a San Jose side that kept the pressure on. As the half wound down, the Quakes held an 11 to two advantage in shots and the teams went to the break with San Jose on top 2-0.
Out of the break, Minnesota came back to the pitch with a greater sense of urgency. Midfielder Ethan Finlay put a strong shot on goal in the 47th minute and overall, the midfielders moved the ball much better and got into spaces, even though the final ball remained elusive. When centerback Yeferson Quintana went out with an ankle injury in the 54th minute and was replaced by Jimmy Ockford, Heath no doubt felt an opportunity to attack a weakened backline.
But in the 59th minute, Hoesen pulled a sweet give-and-go with Vako in the middle of the pitch outside of the box and got past the Loons’ backline with a burst of speed before burying the ball in the back of the net for a 3-0 lead.
For the next 20 minutes, it looked for all the world like MNUFC were going to go gently into that good night but then with 10 minutes remaining and buoyed by late subs Collen Warner and Miguel Ibarra’s energy, midfielder Kevin Molino came alive. In the 81st minute, Molino took a deflection off of Ramirez following a cross from the left wing nailed a shot from the right side. Four minutes later and clearly feeling himself, he found a sliver of space as he drifted from left to right at the top of the box and sent another into the right side of goal off one hop to suddenly make the match 3-2.
“[Molino]’s a quality player,” said Heath. “We need to get him back to 10, 12 goals and 10, 15 assists, because that’s what he’s capable of. That will be a big boost to his confidence and hopefully he can go on to bigger and better things from there because he’s certainly got the talent to be one of the better players in the league.”
Although San Jose quickly regrouped and packed their final third, Minnesota remained threatening over the final five minutes and into stoppage time. They generated quality looks and in the 93rd minute, it looked like Molino might pull them even and complete his hat trick when he got the ball just inside the 18 but he couldn’t round on it and fire. Their last chance came following a corner kick when Warner lined up a bit of a long shot that went just wide right.
MNUFC next travels to Florida to face Orlando City SC on Sunday, March 10 in a match that kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT. Catch all the action on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN with pre-match coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Matt Lampson; D Tyrone Mears, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Jerome Thiesson; Ibson (Collen Warner 79’), Rasmus Schuller, Ethan Finlay (Miguel Ibarra 75’), Kevin Molino, Sam Nicholson; F Abu Danladi (Christian Ramirez 29’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman, Carter Manley; M Collin Martin
San Jose Earthquakes Starting XI: GK Andrew Tarbell; D Nick Lima, Yefferson Quintana (Jimmy Ockford 54’), Harold Cummings, Shea Salinas; M Magnus Eriksson (Tommy Thompson 82’), Anibal Godoy, Florian Jungwirth, Vako (Fatai Alashe 88’); F Danny Hoesen, Chris Wondolowski
SJ Unused Subs: GK Matt Bersano; M Jackson Yueill, Jahmir Hyka; F Quincy Amarikwa
27’ – Hoesen Vako) – SJ
28’ – Vako (Wondolowski) – SJ
59’ – Hoesen (Vako) – SJ
81’ – Molino (Ramirez, Thiesson) – MIN
85’ – Molino (Schuller) – MIN
25’ – Mears (YC) – MIN
71’ – Ockford (YC) – SJ