Amid 90-degree temperatures, forward Christian Ramirez and midfielder Miguel Ibarra ignited Minnesota United with two goals in a six-minute span early in the second half as the team concluded its home stand with a 2-0 win over Montreal Impact Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
In the weeks leading up the match, Head Coach Adrian Heath said he would have a better picture of his team’s progression by the end of this home stand. With the three points, MNUFC ends its run of four of five matches at home with16 points and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
“We are getting better and we still have a long way to go to be where I want us to be,” said Heath. “To be in and around the playoffs with the Galaxy and one or two others, we’ll probably take that.”
Both teams left room for the other to operate early, but it was the Impact that finally settled in and started to take advantage. Montreal created the majority of the chances in the opening 45 minutes — none closer than midfielder Ignacio Piatti’s floating shot in the 28th minute that found the crossbar — and forced two saves out of MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Though the Loons struggled to connect passes in the attack early, they found their groove in the dying minutes of the scoreless first half and generated arguably the two most dangerous changes.
Midfielder Darwin Quintero was Minnesota’s most threatening player and he came close to opening the scoring in the 41st minute. He stripped a Montreal player of the ball and charged into an open seam in the box, eventually pushing his shot wide left. Ibarra followed that opportunity in the 43rd minute by evading a defender in the penalty area and picking out midfielder Alexi Gomez for a shot that left the crossbar shaking.
“I thought the first 25 minutes were as bad as we’ve played all season,” said Heath. “We lacked energy and we lacked desire. If you look at the first half, Darwin could have had two goals through his own little bits of creativity. If we can consistently get the ball to him in the final third, he will score many goals.”
With momentum still coursing from a first half surge, MNUFC broke through in the 52nd minute with Ramirez’s third goal of the season and second in the last three matches. Midfielder Ibson picked off an Impact pass at midfield and slid the ball forward to Ramirez in the box. Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush got a piece of the shot, but not enough to prevent it from trickling into the bottom left corner of the net.
Ibarra doubled the Loons’ advantage in the 58th minute with a highlight reel-worthy strike. After a Gomez cross took a deflection off Impact defender Rodd Fanni, Ibarra beat defender Daniel Lovitz to the loose ball and uncorked a curling shot from the top of the box into the upper 90.
“We knew we weren’t having our best game at the beginning,” said Ibarra. “It was on us to wake up and make sure that we put them on the back foot because we weren’t pressing at all. Our second half was to make sure to press them, press them, press them and make sure they give the ball away. I think we did a great job in the second half and it worked."
With a two-goal lead, Minnesota and its backline settled in and closed out the victory. The MNUFC defenders, led by World Cup-bound Francisco Calvo, turned in a stellar performance — especially in the opening 25-30 minutes of the contest to ward off Montreal — and Shuttleworth was up to the task when called upon. He turned away another pair of shots to finish with four stops and his second clean sheet of the season.
“I thought the back four were terrific today,” said Heath. “I thought the back four were the best they’ve been because they had to be. I thought Calvo and Boxall did some great stuff. When you see the response that Francisco Calvo had today — throwing himself in last-ditch tackles when he has the biggest tournament of his career around the corner — I think that spoke volumes for him. I was so pleased for him.”
Minnesota threatened a few more times before the final whistle, but settled for the two goals and the accompanying three points. After being subbed on in the 81st minute for Quintero, forward Abu Danladi had a pair of close calls and set up Gomez for a chance in the 86th minute that forced a stop from Bush.
With their home stand now behind them, the Loons prepare for two straight on the road starting with next week’s nationally televised clash against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Pre-match coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 and on MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth: D Tyrone Mears, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Eric Miller; M Rasmus Schuller, Ibson (Frantz Pangop 90’), Miguel Ibarra, Alexi Gomez, Darwin Quintero (Abu Danladi 81’); F Christian Ramirez (Collin Martin 76’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Alex Kapp;D Brent Kallman, Carter Manley; F Mason Toye
Montreal Impact Starting XI: GK Evan Bush; D Daniel Lovitz, Rod Fanni, Jukka Raitala, Chris Duvall; M Samuel Piette, Alejandro Silva (Ken Krolicki 57’), Matteo Mancosu (Anthony Jackson-Hamel 71’), Saphir Taider, Raheem Edwards; F Ignacio Piatti
MTL Unused Subs: GK Clement Diop; D Rudy Camacho; M Marco Donadel, Jeisson Vargas; F Michael Petrasso
52’ – Ramirez (Ibson) – MIN
58’ – Ibarra – MIN
20’ – Edwards (YC) – MTL
20’ – Gomez (YC) – MIN
44’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN