Faced with a quick turnaround following a cross-country flight to Utah, Minnesota United was forced to rotate the squad against Real Salt Lake. The unfamiliar lineup faltered in the first half, allowing a goal in the 11th minute, but showed renewed fight and grit in the second, leveling the game in the 84th minute and just about winning it in the 87th before being undone by video review.
"So disappointed in our first half performance, which to say it was passive would be an understatement," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "[In the second half] we were everything we weren’t in the first half. We played on the front foot, played good football, tried to stretch the pitch and tried to play in behind. Towards the end I was disappointed we didn’t actually win the game because I thought we looked the most likely. You can certainly say it was a game of two halves, but it was stark warning for me. As I mentioned to the players, we cannot play like that on the road in the first half."
In the game’s opening minutes, Minnesota United appeared capable of putting together some decent offensive opportunities on the evening. With forward Angelo Rodriguez out with a minor lower leg injury, it was up to Abu Danladi to carry the weight as the tip of the spear and initially, it seemed like he was up to the task, putting himself into some threatening positions.
But on the other end of the ball, the Loons displayed some worrying gaps in defense. With MNUFC putting out a back four consisting of four centerbacks (from left to right, Francisco Calvo, Wyatt Omsberg, Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall), it appeared that Heath as banking on size and stoutness over pace and it left some gap ahead of the backline.
In the 11th minute, forward Damir Kreilach took advantage of that space, getting past holding midfielder Fernando Bob and getting enough of a window to fire a shot from 22 yards out that snuck inside the far post to put the Claret-and-Cobalt up 1-0.
The deficit seemed to deflate the visiting side a bit, leaving them baffled as to how to push forward and equalize while also shoring up the defense enough to not concede another. Instead, they had to cope with the loss of their loan forward as Danladi came up lame with a leg injury in the 24th minute, forcing Heath to go to his bench for Rasmus Schuller and shifting Romario Ibarra into the striker role. Chalk it up to playing a second game in four days, the altitude, or players playing out of their positions of comfort, but MNUFC lacked rhythm and pace for the remainder of the first half.
The closest they came was a good opportunity in the 33rd minute jumpstarted by the savvy defensive play of Omsberg, who put in an excellent shift overall. His block down at the Loons’ end spring a counterattack that sliced all the way up the field before Romario’s cross from the right side couldn’t quite find either Quintero or Miguel streaking into the box.
"The one thing that we spoke about at halftime, I am fed up with having people who can run and all they want to do is come to the ball and show everybody how good the touch is," said Heath. "We have not bought Romario Ibarra to come to the ball and play tiki taka football. We played him to use his speed. He has terrific speed and wants to run in behind. Conceivably he could have gotten three or four tonight when he got in there. That is something for us to work with and something to look at in the next few weeks."
Whatever Heath said at halftime lit a spark under the side, though, and the second half featured a bevy of chances early on that went begging more by luck than poor execution. In the 55th minute, Calvo — who played incisive balls ahead all night from his position as a left back — found Romario cutting down the left wing. Romario forced goalkeeper Nick Rimando into a tough save on that occasion and several others in the early going of the second.
In the 68th minute, Quintero beat two Real Salt Lake defenders on the left wing and fired a curling shot in with his right foot that ricocheted off Miguel Ibarra — who was just trying to get himself in position for a rebound — and out over the endline.
Finally, in the 84th minute, the Loons struck gold. Quintero drove the ball into the right side of the box before being dispossessed, but Boxall — overlapping into the offense from the right back position — got it right back to him. As the Colombian turned to survey the situation, he spotted a completely unmarked Miguel Ibarra in the box, kept onside by RSL’s left back. He dinked it into Ibarra and the midfielder finished over Rimando to draw MNUFC level at 1-1.
"[Miguel] came in off of the line, made good forward runs and started to stretch the game," said Heath. "That gave Darwin a little bit more space to really start to do what he can do best."
Minutes later, it looked for all the world like Ibarra would be the conquering hero after a terrific backwards flick from Quintero sprung him down the right side for a difficult, hard angled finished that rippled the top netting. But the officials — after much discussion and some time spent at the video monitor — determined that Quintero had been offside up the field on an initial touch from Brent Kallman and called the goal off.
"Everybody says these things even themselves out, so we have plenty to come in the next six or seven games," said Heath. "Every time there is a VAR decision we don’t seem to get any benefit from it. It is supposed to be clear and obvious. They have watched it again four times in the dressing room and nobody can tell."
The air well out of the game by the time they restarted play around the 90th minute, both teams did their best to get their hearts back into it but neither could find a breakthrough goal in the five added minutes, the bulk of which came from the delay caused by the review. In the end, each side would have to settle for a point in a 1-1 draw.
Up next for MNUFC is a welcome return to TCF Bank Stadium as they face the visiting Portland Timbers on Saturday, September 22 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus, 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, Wyatt Omsberg, Francisco Calvo; M Maximiano, Fernando Bob, Miguel Ibarra, Romario Ibarra, Darwin Quintero; F Abu Danladi (Rasmus Schuller 24’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Matt Lampson; D Carter Manley, Marc Burch; M Ibson, Collin Martin, Collen Warner
Real Salt Lake Starting XI: GK Nick Rimando; D Brooks Lennon, Nick Besler, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera; M Sunday Stephen (Sebastian Saucedo 90+5’), Kyle Beckerman (Pablo Ruiz 66’), Jefferson Savarino, Damir Kreilach, Joao Plata; F Albert Rusnak (Corey Baird 80’)
RSL Unused Subs: GK Andrew Putna; D Shawn Berry, Danilo Barry; M Luke Mulholland
11’ – Kreilach (Sunday Stephen) – RSL
84’ – M. Ibarra (Quintero) – MIN
64’ – Beckerman (YC) – RSL
74’ – Maximiano (YC) – MIN
76’ – Omsberg (YC) – MIN