With a history stretching back to clashes in the U.S. Open Cup and a budding regional rivalry in MLS, Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City met on a perfectly sunny Sunday to renew hostilities at TCF Bank Stadium. Western Conference-leading SKC opened the scoring in the 8th minute with a header by Khiry Shelton, but MNUFC would level it after Darwin Quintero put his own rebounded header into the net in the 19th minute. Although they would get a few chances to pull ahead, the Loons’ main achievement was weathering a storm of shots to take a point at home in the season’s first draw.
"I thought there was a steely determination to finish the game off today," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "For about 25 minutes in the first half I thought some of our counter attacking football was excellent. We managed to get Darwin on and managed to get the third man running in. I thought at times we could have had a better ball and we could have actually made more of the opportunities that we had."
Although Sporting KC started the match strong controlling possession and working on attacking down the right wing, it was Minnesota who nearly opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Midfielder Darwin Quintero settled the ball with a deft header on the right wing and sent in a cross that deflected off goalkeeper Tim Melia and directly to forward Christian Ramirez who coolly put it away but he was immediately ruled offside on the initial cross.
Two minutes later it was SKC’s turn and its goal would not be called back. After winning a corner kick, midfielder Johnny Russell struck an inswinging ball that found forward Khiry Shelton’s head and the back of the net in quick succession.
As they worked to dig themselves out of that 1-0 hole, the Loons struggled to make connections in the final third. Although they put together some nice action through the middle of the field, an errant touch or a breakdown in communication would short circuit their forward progress, making it difficult to build up offensive momentum.
But in the 20th minute they first found a seam in behind Sporting Kansas City’s fullbacks, who were often pushed far up the pitch. Midfielder Miguel Ibarra played a give-and-go up the right wing and hit a cross in toward a streaking Quintero but the ball ended up safely in Melia’s arms. That combo would not be denied a second time as a minute later, Ibarra once again crossed it in from the right and directly onto Quintero’s head. The well-struck header went straight at Melia, who could not control it, and Quintero followed it up with a right knee strike that found net.
"I thought that Miguel and Alexi Gomez," said Heath, "in that 25 minute spell where I felt we were looking dangerous with our combination play, it was where we got our wide guys in the hole on either side of Ilie Sanchez and started to attract their fullbacks in and then use the space out wide. It is something we worked on and something we spoke about and I thought that worked really well."
With the match level at 1-1, SKC immediately went to work, threatening with a pretty string of play that ended in a low cross that goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth gobbled up and then another low cross that rolled all the way across the box without finding either an attacker or a defender.
Over the final 20 minutes of the first half, MNUFC threatened multiple times while Shuttleworth stood tall in net, turning back several chances including one in stoppage time that kept things even headed into the halftime break. Although SKC owned 57% of the possession and put up nine shots to the Loons’ four, the creativity shown by players like midfielder Alexi Gomez made it feel like the home side was the team most likely at that moment.
"At halftime I thought we actually had a chance in the game," said Heath. "I thought we weathered the first 10-15 minutes and then I thought we had some really good moments on the counterattack. We identified those sort of spots down the side of the center halves and in behind the full backs. I thought certainly Miguel Ibarra got in there really well in the first half."
In the second half, though, Minnesota United struggled to get its offense going. After a strong run by Quintero in the half’s opening minutes that ended with the forward slipping near the edge of the box, the Loons saw much of the action unfold in their own half. To their credit, they put up a strong defensive effort, with Rasmus Schuller once again looking up to the task of holding down the space in front of the back four as a No. 6.
But with the injury to midfielder Ibson forcing Heath to play Collin Martin — who’s seen precious little game action this season so far — the head coach had to go comparatively early to the bench to put in midfielder Maximiano for Martin in the 66th minute. It was a situation he would have to deal with again later, bringing out Gomez for Abu Danladi, who slotted into the right wing instead of his customary forward position.
"Collin has not played really any football and he was starting to feel it," said Heath. "It was hot out there today. I felt another strong body in there would help us. Apart from the cheap turnover, [Maximiano] gave us some energy when he came on."
As the shot count grew for SKC — they would end the match with 24 to Minnesota’s six — it was Shuttleworth who emerged as the hero, turning away Johnny Russell shots in the 55th and 72nd minute to keep the teams knotted. In the 78th minute, he dove for a save on a shot from the left side that ultimately went wide of the post, but picked up a knock when his hand hit the woodwork. But a bloody nose couldn’t knock him out last year when these two teams met, so he strapped his gloves on and went back to work.
A midfield collision of heads between Schuller and midfielder Yohan Croizet on a low bouncing ball ended Schuller’s day and opened the door for Heath to give defender Brent Kallman a bit of run and let him shift captain Francisco Calvo out to the midfield to shore up the spine of the defense.
"The one area today that was a little bit of a concern obviously was a couple of injuries again," said Heath. "Rasmus has a bang on the head and Jerry [Thiesson] was carrying a knock late on. We are getting stretched. We are brining in people who have not played any football hardly at all. It is a tall order to go from playing no football, because whatever you do Monday through Friday in training never replicates the cut and thrust of a game — especially in the conditions like we had today. We’ll see where we are on Monday with a few of the guys, but it is a little bit of a concern at the moment."
In the end, neither team could break through and the Loons earned their first draw of the season — a solid result against the Western Conference leaders. Minnesota’s homestand rolls on next week with a match against Montreal Impact at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, May 26 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Pre-match coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Jerome Thiesson, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Eric Miller; M Rasmus Schuller (Brent Kallman 86’), Collin Martin (Maximiano 66’), Miguel Ibarra, Alexi Gomez (Abu Danladi 74’), Darwin Quintero; F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Alex Kapp; D Carter Manley; M Frantz Pangop; F Mason Toye
Sporting Kansas City Starting XI: GK Tim Melia; D Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Jimmy Medranda (Seth Sinovic 36’); M Roger Espinoza, Ille Sanchez, Yohan Croizet; F Johnny Russel, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi
SKC Unused Subs: GK Adrian Zendejas; D Emiliano Amor, Jaylin Lindsey; M Cristian Lobato; F Gerso Fernandes, Diego Rubio
8’ – Shelton (Russell) – SKC
20’ – Quintero – MIN
51’ – Schuller (YC) – MIN
53’ – Sinovic (YC) – SKC
58’ – Shelton (YC) – SKC
71’ – Maximiano (YC) – MIN