Minnesota United successfully weathered an early storm, but a pair of second half goals undid the Loons on Saturday as they succumbed to Sporting Kansas City’s relentless attacking pressure in a frustrating 2-0 setback on the road at Children’s Mercy Park.
After falling behind early in the closing stanza, MNUFC created numerous quality opportunities in a spirited push to get back into the game but was thwarted by SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia and failed to take advantage.
“There are levels of performance that you accept even when you lose games,” Head Coach Adrian Heath said. “Tonight was one of those nights. We had the best chances. It is the oldest saying in football that goals change games. They scored at really important times. That was the disappointment because I don’t think they had to work hard enough for their two goals.”
With defender Francisco Calvo and midfielder Collen Warner back in the starting XI, Minnesota was able to revert to its favored 3-5-2 formation and its comfort level when defending — even amidst one of the most hostile road environments in MLS — was evident early on and set the Loons up for a positive result through 45 minutes.
Sporting KC has been superb at home this season and kept MNUFC on the back foot and defending in the first half. Minnesota ceded nearly 60 percent of the possession to the home side, but held its shape at the back well and was resolute through the middle to weather the storm. Defender Brent Kallman and his fellow centerbacks frustrated SKC in the box and forced it to take chances from wider areas. Sporting KC fullbacks Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic had a couple of close calls sail wide in the 17th and 23rd minutes and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth was called on for a pair of comfortable saves in the 32nd and 37th minutes — shots that all came from beyond the box.
Minnesota’s stout defending was nearly rewarded on the other end just before the stroke of halftime in stoppage time. Both Kallman and forward Mason Toye — who made his first start since May 5 in place of the injured Darwin Quintero — got something on the ball in the six-yard box from a corner, but neither was able to beat Melia. Despite the missed opportunity, the Loons were no doubt content to settle for a scoreless first half considering Sporting KC’s persistent pressure.
Given a half a yard of space, though, Sporting KC finally capitalized just after the break in the 47th minute. After coming on at half, SKC forward Yohan Croizet found a sliver of daylight in the box, received a pass from forward Johnny Russel and slipped it past Shuttleworth to open the scoring.
“Their movement is really good,” Kallman said. "They had a couple guys take clever touches and get shots away. That is the challenge of playing them, especially when you play them here. You have to be focused and locked in for 90 minutes because they punish you for mistakes. That is exactly what they did.
“We can take some positives away from this game that we were more disciplined and we stayed more to the plan,” he added.
Arguably the Loons’ best chance to equalize came moments later in the 54th minute. After a great buildup and run, forward Angelo Rodriguez picked out Toye with an opening on the back post, but Toye’s ensuing shot sailed over the crossbar. The miss soon proved costly as SKC forward Diego Rubio took full advantage of a glimpse of space to double his side’s advantage in the 62nd minute. Despite Minnesota’s best efforts late, that goal would put the game out of reach.
Trailing, 2-0, Heath brought on forward Abu Danladi and midfielder Romario Ibarra in the 66th and 76th minutes to try and get more numbers forward. The substitutions gave life to a dormant MNUFC attack and it came painfully close to finding a goal. Danladi, Rodriguez and Romario all forced tough saves from Melia in the 76th, 79th and 81st minutes, respectively, and midfielder Ibson put a curling shot off of the crossbar in the 82nd minute, but a comeback was not in the cards for Minnesota.
“We could not score when we had our opportunities, which was the disappointment,” Heath said. “To keep the momentum for us in the game we need to take those opportunities when they arise. Some of the performances were quite good and I felt the players competed from the first minute to the last minute.”
Up next for Minnesota United is a two-and-a-half-week international break followed by a visit to MLS’s newest venue, Audi Field, to face D.C. United on Wednesday, September 12. That contest kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT with pre-game coverage commencing at 6:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo; M Miguel Ibarra (Romario Ibarra 76’), Collen Warner, Rasmus Schuller, Ibson, Eric Miller (Jerome Thiesson 33’); F Mason Toye (Abu Danladi 66’), Angelo Rodriguez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Matt Lampson; D Wyatt Omsberg; M Collin Martin, Maximiano
Sporting Kansas City Starting XI: GK Tim Melia; D Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; M Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza (Gianluca Busio 83’), Johnny Russell, Gerso Fernandes, Felipe Gutierrez (Yohan Croizet 46’); F Diego Rubio (Kristian Nemeth 72’)
SKC Unused Subs: GK Adrian Zendejas; D Andreu Fondas, Jaylin Lindsey; F Daniel Salloi
47’ – Croizet (Russell, Rubio) – SKC
62’ – Rubio (Russell, Sinovic) – SKC
50’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN
52’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN