The afternoon’s thunderstorms cleared out of Minneapolis just in time for MNUFC and Toronto FC to play a humid early evening match that saw the Loons snap a three-match winless streak and also get their first MLS hat trick on the back of an impressive performance by Darwin Quintero.
“I thought for 25, 30 minutes, we were outstanding,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Some of our play tonight was as good as you’ll see in the MLS. It really was that good. When to play simple. When to play in behind. When to play to the feet, combination play. And, you know, culminating in as good a hat trick as I’ve ever witnessed. And I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m pleased that they got the reward that they did tonight, because I don’t think anybody in here can say that we didn’t deserve something from the previous three games. And sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. I’m aware of that. But tonight we did.”
With both teams playing five midfielders, the opening minutes of the match saw the two teams exchanging possession as each worked to figure out how to get through the knot of players in the middle third. Although midfielder Collen Warner ripped a shot from distance in the seventh minute, it was forward Darwin Quintero who cracked the code first in the eighth minute, finding a bit of space between Toronto’s midfield and the backline on the right side and holding up play long enough for forward Christian Ramirez to join in support. Ramirez ran in behind Quintero and pulled Toronto defender Nick Hagglund to his left just enough for Quintero to line up a shot with the outside of his boot and curl it past Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta and into the upper left corner of the net.
“He’s an incredibly confident guy in his own ability. That’s the thing,” said Heath. “I don’t think when he’s not scoring goals, his confidence starts to go and it affects other parts of his game. He’s supremely confident in his ability to find space, to make passes, to score goals. He’s done it all his career.”
Against FC Dallas, Minnesota’s 3-5-2 formation looked fairly solid defensively and generated chances that just didn’t go in, and tonight, the formation once again looked both flexible and strong, with wingbacks Miguel Ibarra and Alexi Gomez prowling up and down the wings. They provided strong support in attack but also showed good ability to drop back and shore up the backline when required. This made things difficult for Toronto’s wings, who found themselves often confronting double coverage as they attempted to set up crosses.
In the 13th minute, a long pass by defender Francisco Calvo — just returned from a stint at the World Cup with Costa Rica — sprung Ibarra down the middle for a run on goal. With the defense on its heels, Ibarra cut right and easily got the ball around goalkeeper Clint Irwin to double Minnesota’s lead to 2-0.
Minnesota’s defense and midfield managed to keep Toronto’s most obvious threat, Sebastian Giovinco, at bay, with Giovinco making very little of an impact in the first half. Toronto’s first real chance of the game came in the 36th minute when a cross from the left wing found midfielder Nicolas Hasler streaking on goal, but his shot pinged harmlessly off the crossbar.
Toward the end of the first half, Minnesota displayed a bit of a problem that would come back to them toward the end of the second half. Holding a two-goal lead, they began to fall back a little too hard, leading to some congestion at the back and an inability to cleanly mark their attackers and then turn the ball back out into space.
Toronto would cut the lead in half just before the half when midfielder Ibson made a costly mistake, sending a ball across the face of goal in his own box instead of clearing his line. The errant dribble or pass ended up squarely in the path of midfielder Justin Morrow who sent the ball cleanly past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and into the back of the net. The teams headed into the locker room with the Loons on top 2-1.
Calvo picked up a yellow card in the 50th minute after forward Jordan Hamilton beat him along the endline on the right side. Although he hasn’t appeared for MNUFC for over a month, he will nonetheless miss the Houston match based on yellow card accumulation from earlier in the season, having missed out on the chance to dial back his total with good behavior in the intervening matches.
In the 52nd minute, it was again Quintero finding space between the midfield and defense. He picked up the ball beyond the edge of the box with enough room to run in before chipping the ball neatly over Irwin, who just barely got a finger on it as the ball sailed into the upper left corner again.
In the 57th minute, Quintero completed the first hat trick in Minnesota United’s MLS history with a beauty of a long-range goal. After holding up the ball on midfielder Michael Bradley near the midfield line and nearly having it knocked away, he picked up the ball with a head of steam and one defender to beat in Toronto’s half. With cool confidence, he sized up Irwin and nestled a gentle yet brutal strike over Irwin’s head and into the top right corner of the goal to give the Loons a 4-1 lead.
“I dedicated it to my wife, it’s her birthday today,” said Quintero. “I told her I was going to score a hat trick and that I was going to get her the ball. Thanks to God, I did it. But the most important thing is that the team got the three points.”
The Reds would make it interesting, though. Giovinco threatened in the 62nd minute after Toronto earned a free kick in a dangerous spot just beyond the edge of the box in the middle of the field, but his shot went just over the crossbar and it also looked like Shuttleworth could have pushed it over if necessary. But eight minutes later, Giovinco fired a laser of a left-footed shot from the top of the box and past Shuttleworth to make it 4-2.
Although Minnesota came close to adding to their total with more good looks for Quintero and Ramirez, they began to fall back a bit too hard again, leading to some confusion about marking and roles. This led to another consolation goal in stoppage time off a corner kick when Hamilton got his head on the ball and put it into the bottom right corner of the goal. The Loons, though, would hold on for the 4-3 win.
“I think the fact that we’ve been on the run that we’ve had, people think that dropping back behind the ball and getting numbers is actually doing the job,” said Heath. “And sometimes all it does is make things too busy. You have so many players back that people don’t do a job. Sometimes you can have too many people back.”
But overall, Heath wanted to emphasize the positives coming out of the match. “This is like a new start, a fresh start for the second half of the season,” he said. “Let’s see what we do. This team is capable of winning 13, 14 games in this league. I know it is. And that’s what we have to aim at. So the second half of the season, we’re going to have to pick up a lot of weight, but we are capable of it.”
Minnesota United now heads to Houston to face the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, July 7 in a match that kicks off at 8:00 p.m. CT. Pre-match coverage gets going on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN at 7:30 p.m.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo; M Miguel Ibarra, Ibson, Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller (Collin Martin 79’), Alexi Gomez; F Darwin Quintero (Eric Miller 87’), Christian Ramirez (Mason Toye 77’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Matt Lampson; D Tyrone Mears; M Frantz Pangop
Toronto FC Starting XI: GK Clint Irwin; D Ashtone Morgan (Gregory van der Wiel 53’), Eriq Zavaleta, Justin Morrow (Ryan Telfer 66’), Nick Hagglund, Nicolas Hasler (Ayo Akinola 78’); M Jonatan Osorio, Marco Delgado, Michael Bradley; F Jordan Hamilton, Sebastian Giovinco
TOR Unused Subs: GK Alex Bono; M Jay Chapman, Liam Fraser; F Tosaint Ricketts
8’ – Quintero (unassisted) – MIN
13’ – Ibarra (Calvo) – MIN
42’ – Morrow (unassisted) – TOR
52’ – Quintero (Ibarra) – MIN
57’ – Quintero (unassisted) – MIN
70’ – Giovinco (Hasler) – TOR
90+4’ – Hamilton (van der Wiel) – TOR
41’ – Warner (YC) – MIN
49’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN
59’ – Quintero (YC) – MIN