Tallying its 100th MLS goal then adding two more, Minnesota United has now taken three points in two consecutive weeks, this time shutting out San Jose on the road 3-0. Leading the way for the Loons was Darwin Quintero, who converted from the penalty spot and delivered an assist to Miguel Ibarra before MNUFC sealed the win with a Jan Gregus-delivered free kick that was finished into the net off the head of San Jose defender Harold Cummings for an own goal.
"Obviously winning always breeds confidence, but I'm more concerned about the performance, the level of performance expected and if we play like that, it's normally enough to win games," said Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath. "We've had two road games, six goals and tonight we conceivably left a few out there because we probably should have been two or three up at half time. So it's been a really good performance and I'm pleased with the group, pleased with the fact that it's a clean sheet, and it's a good start."
San Jose began the game full of energy and a positive mentality moving forward, with Chris Wondolowski looking for goal number 145 and a share of the Major League Soccer scoring record alongside U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan, but it was Minnesota United that had the first scoring opportunity 10 minutes into the game as a perfectly placed Romain Metanire bending ball found Romario Ibarra behind the San Jose defensive line. Romario Ibarra turned his hips and struck the ball with his left foot toward the San Jose net, unable to find a way around Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega.
"Romario [Ibarra]'s pace, he's always going to get that opportunity like he did in the first half where he goes in one-on-one, you know, he's very explosive, really quick and if we get the ball to [Darwin Quintero] in those holes and those pockets he makes things happen," said Heath. "I thought some of his stuff was outstanding tonight, and I thought he was arguably one of the best players on the field, so it's another big performance from him and a good start for us."
With both teams placing shots on frame, but unable to connect through the first 20 minutes of play, things began to slow down – both clubs struggling to find space in the final third. It was a turnover forced by Metanire that nearly saw the away side take the lead in the 27th minute, with Romario Ibarra once again getting in behind the Earthquakes’ center backs, but unable to find the right shot to beat Vega. Forward Darwin Quintero followed up Romario Ibarra’s shot with a well-placed crack into the near bar that Vega palmed away over the endline to keep things level at zero.
Vega was called upon again and again in the opening 45 minutes of play, as the Loons managed eight shots with four on target. San Jose nearly stole one late off the boot of Wondolowski inside the six-yard-box from a ball played in by Cristian Espinoza, whipping through the area, tipping off Wondolowski’s foot and off the woodwork.
"I thought that the back four defended the goal really well when they put balls in the box because we know when they've got balls in the box they've got probably one of the best forwards for his movement in the league in Wondolowski," said Heath. "I think they had one cross in the first half and he got on the end of it when it hit the post. Overall, I thought we were well worthy winners, we were the better team from probably minute one to 90."
"We didn't make too many adjustments we worked all week on their shape because they do play different than every team in the league," said Heath. "They play virtually man-for-man and let your two centerbacks have it. The trick for us and the issue for us was can we make the right decision when we get halfway in their half and I think we did it on the whole. It's not an easy system to play against, but I thought all of the stuff we worked on during the week pretty much came through."
Less than a minute into the second half Minnesota United was awarded a penalty as Marcos Lopez settled the ball with his bicep after Miguel Ibarra dinked it over his head. Quintero stepped up to the spot and delivered the ball into the side netting, sending Vega the wrong direction and tallying the 100th MLS goal for Minnesota United and the first goal of the night.
Just three minutes later, Minnesota United collected the ball from a San Jose corner kick and broke quickly to the other end to score its second. Quintero flanked on either side by Jan Gregus and Miguel Ibarra dribbled into the Earthquakes’ half with numbers. Closing in toward the penalty area, Quintero laid the ball off to Miguel Ibarra, who faked a shot, turning his defender around, then burying the ball into the back of the net.
San Jose then moved into a tactical press, forcing quick passes out of the MNUFC defenders and opening gaps on both sides of the field. Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath attempted to close those open spaces and maintain control, sending Angelo Rodriguez into the game to replace Romario Ibarra. Rodriguez drew the foul in the 74th minute that lead to the Loon’s third goal, helped into the net by San Jose Earthquakes defender Harold Cummings from a Jan Gregus free kick.
Wondolowski would get one final chance as the game moved into the death, once again latching onto the end of a strong Espinoza cross. He attempted to settle it down, and did well in a tight space near the net to get a shot off, but pulled it wide of the frame in what was the final effort from either team for the night.
It was a composed 90 minutes for Minnesota United, creating multiple chances and remaining organized in the back to shut out its opponent for the first time this season. Improvements in the offseason are paying dividends just two weeks into the year as the Loons have already doubled their road win total from the 2018 season. As Gregus and Osvaldo Alonso continue to bond and keep control of the midfield, Minnesota United will continue to improve and be more difficult to break down as a whole. MNUFC will work to remain on top of the table with three more away matches remaining on this trip before returning to Minnesota for the opening of Allianz Field.
"I'm glad they've had a couple of good games together because I wouldn't change them two for anybody in the league. Ozzie's been the best number six in this league for ten years, and as I said, we've brought in a Slovakian international to play alongside him," said Heath. "I don't think it's a coincidence that we've dominated both games' possession because we've got two really good continuity players in there. We've got people who know where to go, to stand and get the ball, we've got people who know when to pick the pace of the game up, when to slow the game down and that's only going to get better, that partnership."
Minnesota United’s next match is Saturday, March 16 in Los Angeles as the Loons continue their trip west against the Galaxy. That game kicks off at 9:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 9:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus, streaming on FOX Sports Go and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. Fans can come down to Park Tavern in Saint Louis Park for the Official Watch Party presented by Summit.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Francisco Calvo; M Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus, Miguel Ibarra, Rasmus Schuller (Ethan Finlay 78’), Darwin Quintero (Hassani Dotson 90+1’); F Romario Ibarra (Angelo Rodriguez 62’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman, Chase Gasper; M Ethan Finlay; F Mason Toye,
San Jose Earthquakes Starting XI: GK Daniel Vega; D Nick Lima (Tommy Thompson 56’), Guram Kashia, Harold Cummings, Marcos Lopez (Danny Hoesen 64’); M Anibal Godoy, Judson, Magnus Eriksson, Cristian Espinoza, Valeri Qazaishvili (Shea Salinas 64’); F Chris Wondolowski
SJ Unused Subs: GK Andrew Tarbell; D Paul Marnie; M Jackson Yueill, Florian Jungwirth
49’ – Quintero (PK) – MIN
52’ – Ibarra (Quintero) – MIN
75’ – Cummings (Own Goal) – MIN
3’ – Eriksson (YC) – SJ
61’ – Godoy (YC) – SJ
65’ – Schuller (YC) – MIN