A week can make a world of difference in MLS. After winning back-to-back matches, Minnesota United faced its stiffest test of the young season yet as it headed to face New York Red Bulls with a backline entirely overhauled by international call-ups and injuries. Missing captain Francisco Calvo and Michael Boxall, the team was without its starting centerback tandem and injuries to fullbacks Tyrone Mears and Jerome Thiesson meant a much younger and greener team would take the pitch. For their part, Red Bulls would at last get to field a team that was mostly regular starters for the first time in MLS this season. Although MNUFC started the match on the front foot, an early goal by midfielder Alex Muyl and a brace by forward Bradley Wright-Phillips sent Minnesota United home with a 3-0 loss.
“I’ll be honest, I thought they wanted to win the game more than us,” said Heath. “I thought their energy was fantastic. We spoke about it all week. We watched the game against Portland Timbers and they weren’t ready for it and we weren’t ready for it today.”
In the opening minutes, it looked like the Loons sensed that their best opportunity would be scoring early, given how depleted the team was. MNUFC did well to win and keep the ball over the course of the first 10 minutes with good, aggressive play. Ibson and Collen Warner (taking the place of Rasmus Schuller, who was called up to the Finland international team) dominated the midfield and consistently found Ethan Finlay trucking up the right wing in good position to draw off defender Tim Parker.
In the 15th minute, though, Muyl got out ahead of the play down the right wing. Ibson gamely tried to challenge him, but Muyl stayed upright and floated just far enough left around Marc Burch (in for the injured Thiesson on the left back) to curl a pretty shot onto the far post and in past goalkeeper Matt Lampson.
The Loons responded well to the early goal, though, keeping the pressure up and finding ways to beat New York’s high press and spring the counterattack. Throughout the evening, they managed to look consistently dangerous, even when their opportunities went begging.
“They try and suffocate the life out of you here at home, they all press,” said Heath. “But there are certain soft spots, the way they press, that you can get out. Unfortunately our quality wasn’t good enough to take advantage.“
The final 15 minutes of the first half saw play get choppy and a little uneven with a lot of throw-ins and stoppages. It seemed like maybe MNUFC would get to the break down just one goal, but in the 42nd minute, a long free kick from Sean Davis was turned into a goal by Bradley Wright Phillips after Parker managed to flick it ahead. From right about at the 6-yard box, Phillips struck a karate kick of a shot past Lampson and made it 2-0.
The second goal had the Red Bulls brimming with confidence and they nearly put another in in stoppage time, but Daniel Royer’s strike into the left side of the net was waved off after it became apparent that Kallman had been tripped in the box just before the shot. The teams went into the half with New York on top 2-0 and holding 57% of the possession.
New York opened up the second half where they left off, pressing aggressively and making it difficult for Minnesota to get and keep possession for any extended amount of time. Although Finlay got off the first real strong shot of the evening for the Loons in the 54th minute, goalkeeper Luis Robles made a strong save to force a corner kick that would come to nothing. Two minutes later, Wright-Phillips nearly doubled his goal total with a shot along the ground that caught the left post and bounced away.
In the 63rd minute, Heath opted to see what some fresh legs could do for a side that was already wanting for consistency and he replaced Christian Ramirez with Abu Danladi. A little less than 10 minutes later, he also replaced midfielder Sam Nicholson with forward Mason Toye — who played for the Red Bulls Academy when he was in 8th grade and had family on hand for the match. MNUFC fans also got their first look at midfielder Frantz Pangop, who came on for Miguel Ibarra in the 72nd minute and acquitted himself well, particularly with a strong cross in the 88th minute that gave the Loons what was probably their best scoring opportunity off a Finlay header that hit the crossbar.
But before that, Wright-Phillips would put the match definitively out of reach in the 78th minute after Muyl got a long pass just past the outstretched foot of Omsberg and found Phillips for a deceptively good right-footed shot on the run that found the upper left corner of the goal to make it 3-0.
“I thought there was a lot in the first half,” said Heath. “We had a couple of good breakaways and I thought if we’d had a bit more quality … but their quality showed out in the end. Two top-drawer finished from Bradley Wright-Phillips and I was disappointed with us individually. I don’t think many won their individual battles against their players.”
Minnesota United returns home next week for its second match at TCF Bank Stadium when they face Atlanta United on Saturday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Please note: this match was originally scheduled for Sunday, April 1 at 1:00 p.m. Coverage gets underway on FOX Sports North Plus and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN at 6:30 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Matt Lampson; D Carter Manley, Brent Kallman, Wyatt Omsberg, Marc Burch; M Ibson, Collen Warner, Ethan Finlay, Sam Nicholson (Mason Toye 71’), Miguel Ibarra (Frantz Pangop 72’); F Ramirez 9 (Abu Danladi 63’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Bertrand Owundi; M Harrison Heath, Collin Martin
New York Red Bulls Starting XI: GK Luis Robles; D Kyle Duncan, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, Connor Lade; M Sean Davis, Marc Rzatkowski, Daniel Royer (Stefano Bonomo 89’), Florian Valot (Carlos Rivas 85’), Alex Muyl; F Bradley Wright-Phillips (Derrick Etienne 81’)
NYRB Unused Subs: GK Ryan Meara; D Aurelien Collin; M Benjamin Mines, Vincent Bezecourt
15’ – Muyl (Duncan) – NYRB
42’ – Wright-Phillips (Parker, Davis) – NYRB
78’ – Wright-Phillips (Muyl) – NYRB
38’ – Rzatkowski (YC) – NYRB
39’ – Warner (YC) – MIN
75’ – Ibson (YC) – MIN