On Sunday night, MNUFC welcomed second-place LAFC in a Western Conference clash to close out its home stand. The Loons came in on a three-game home win streak and with the same starting XI for the third game in nine days, while LAFC were following up a mid-week U.S. Open Cup victory against Portland Timbers. It would be tired legs versus fresh depth, but MNUFC came to play and handled the visitor to the tune of 5-1.
“Every time that we attack, if we can get Darwin [Quintero] on the ball, we look like we’re going to create or score a goal, virtually every time we’re in their half of the field,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I think he’s now enjoying playing with the rest of the group, and I think they [understand] that if we can get him the ball in the right spots, and put runs on ahead of him, then you’ve got a great chance of getting in on goal. I thought some of the goals were fantastic. And, you know, we had so many other opportunities. And big moments, and I’ve said it a lot, are really important that you score at the appropriate time. And I felt that we did today.”
LAFC opened the game with their signature high press and it nearly resulted in a very early goal when goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth nearly had a pass intercepted as he cleared it out to a defender in the third minute. By the sixth minute, LAFC had earned its first corner kick and by the next minute, midfielder Benny Feilhaber was testing Shuttleworth from deep with a shot that Shuttleworth had to push over the crossbar.
Despite LAFC’s pressure, Minnesota’s backline defended the box well, breaking up attacks with timely clearances and keeping LAFC from getting quality looks, even as they racked up four corner kicks in the first 10 minutes. The visitors’ first real chance came when midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye strolled into the box unmarked and fired a shot high that got Shuttleworth re-organizing the backline with vehemence.
Although LAFC eventually turned the possession battle its way, MNUFC found its identity on the counterattack. In the 25th minute, forward Darwin Quintero got the ball on the break and ran deep into the box on the right side before throwing on the brakes and breaking defender Dejan Jakovic’s ankles. He held the ball while the rest of the team caught up and then fed it across the box to midfielder Rasmus Schuller who buried it in the back of the net for his first MLS goal and a 1-0 lead.
“Darwin [Quintero] is a great player and he can keep the ball in the box,” said Schuller, “so I knew if I came in the second wave that he could find me and that’s what I did and I found the bottom corner. It was nice to see it go in.”
“We have to go into each game like it’s a playoff game,” said forward Christian Ramirez. “And that’s a mentality that’s being pushed throughout the locker room. And it definitely starts from the top, that precedent. Figuring out what they’re doing early, coming out. Especially LAFC was trying to play out of the back a lot through K [Aaron Kovar], through Benny [Feilhaber]. So once we figured that out, we took the game to them.”
Almost immediately, though, LAFC turned the tables on the home side and got the goal back in the 27th minute when midfielder Latif Blessing got the ball to Feilhaber, who struck a left-footed shot past Shuttleworth into the far corner of the net.
In the 30th minute, midfielder Alexi Gomez came off for defender Eric Miller. Gomez, Heath reported after the game, had picked up a knock and has also been battling a bit of sickness. After playing three games in nine days, there was little doubt that every Minnesota player was playing with at least some kind of twinge.
Toward the end of the first half, Minnesota poured on the pace and the pressure, putting up a flurry of shots from both sides of the pitch before winning a corner kick in the 44th minute. Quintero’s corner kick was cleared out to the top of the box where Miller headed it back in. The ball found its way through the LAFC defense and to the feet of Christian Ramirez, who turned and fired a seeing-eye shot from short range under goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s left arm and above his left leg to make it 2-1.
Moments later, in stoppage time, Quintero got the ball on a long outlet from Miller, drove it into the box and hit a right-footed shot past Miller that bounced once and spun hard into the goal to give the home side a 3-1 lead just before the break.
“As I’ve said when we took him, for me, he’s in that Robbie Keane — who was probably the best player in the league for two or three years — [Sebastian] Giovinco, [Miguel] Almiron,” said Heath. “He’s in that company. And no disrespect to them players, he’s played for as big of clubs as them. Great to coach. Great to work with. Has a great presence in the locker room. As long as we keep him fit and healthy, and work with him and put things on, ahead of him, we’ll cause teams problems.”
LAFC brought in forward Adama Diomande at the break, no doubt to try to spark the offense with some physicality and finishing. Early on, it seemed like the move might pay dividends as LAFC continued to ring up corner kicks. But timely deflections from Brent Kallman and some impressive stops by Shuttleworth kept LAFC from cutting into the Loons’ lead.
In the 56th minute, Quintero found himself facing several LAFC defenders near the top of the box on the right side. He flicked the ball forward toward Christian Ramirez who ran across it and let it go to Miguel Ibarra, who finished it with a right-footed shot. Two minutes later, it was Ramirez’s turn with Schuller finding Ibarra, who fed it to a waiting Ramirez who tapped it in to make it a 5-1 game.
For the next half-hour-plus, the Loons stood tall and showed a newfound ability to hold a lead despite giving up a majority of the possession. Although LAFC found opportunities in Minnesota’s half, the home team’s stalwart defense in the box was a revelation, including solid defensive performances by midfielders Maximiano (who came on for Schuller in the 66th minute) and Collen Warner. Romario Ibarra — signed by the Loons last week — got his first game action when he came on in the 78th minute for Ramirez in the 78th minute, but didn’t get much a chance to show what he could do.
“I got as much satisfaction seeing it out of 5-1 as I did for the result,” said Heath. “Because I thought we actually defended the goal really, really well at the end. And we conceded space. We let them have it at the back and let them have it in wide areas. But we did defend the box really, really well.”
MNUFC returns to the road for the first time in four matches when it faces Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on Saturday, July 28. That match kicks off at 9:00 p.m. CT with pre-match coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo; M Miguel Ibarra, Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller (Maximiano 66’), Ibson, Alexi Gomez (Eric Miller 32’); F Darwin Quintero, Christian Ramirez (Romario Ibarra 78’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Matt Lampson; D Wyatt Omsberg; M Collin Martin; F Mason Toye
Los Angeles Football Club Starting XI: GK Tyler Miller; D Tristian Blackmon, Dejan Jakovic, Laurent Ciman, Joao Moutino (Jordan Harvey 46’); M Benny Feilhaber, Aaron Kovar (Adama Diamande 46’), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Calum Mallace 67’); F Diego Rossi, Marco Urena, Latif Blessing
LAFC Unused Subs: GK Charlie Lyon; D Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman; M Andre Horta
25’ – Schuller (Quintero, Ibson) – MIN
26’ – Feilhaber (Blessing) – LAFC
45’ – Ramirez – MIN
45+1’ – Quintero (Miller) – MIN
56’ – Ibarra (Quintero) – MIN
58’ – Ramirez (Ibarra, Schuller) – MIN
85’ – Harvey (YC) – LAFC