On a historic day for Minnesota United and soccer in Minnesota, the Loons hosted New York City FC for the Inaugural Home Opener of Allianz Field in the Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul. Looking to rebound from a disappointing start to the season, NYCFC came out fired up, while Minnesota United brought the energy in the hopes of earning a win for their fans in this first game at their new home. Despite a thrilling contest with goals on both sides, the game would end in a 3-3 draw and a point for each side.
"I’m sure for the neutral, it was an entertaining game," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "Not too good for the both coaches I wouldn’t have thought. The game was too open for my liking. We gave away three poor goals. They didn’t have to work hard enough for the goals. So, for us to come out of the game with something, I’m pleased for that."
As expected, Minnesota came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, brimming with energy and intensity. In just the fourth minute, forward Angelo Rodriguez nearly opened the scoring after midfielder Darwin Quintero corralled a squirrelly ball in the box and got it over to him in front of goal. Unfortunately, his header went over the bar.
Minutes later, defender Francisco Calvo would get his opportunity to give it a go when Jan Gregus’ corner kick found him in the air. His header would, alas, also go over the bar. But the unmistakable feeling of the game at the moment was that the Loons were knocking on the door early.
"You’re looking at players running into spots that they shouldn’t do," said Heath about the surfeit of energy. "And that’s a lot getting caught up in the day. I thought there were some outstanding performances. I thought Romain Metanire was incredible. I don’t know what his physical stats will be, but my God, he kept going. And then Ethan Finlay down that side, were really, really good in the first half."
History would be made in the 13th minute when defender Romain Metanire received the ball on the right wing and fired a looping cross in that would find Rodriguez. His header from the far post was repelled by Alex Ring but it fell directly into the path of midfielder Osvaldo Alonso who volleyed the ball and buried it in the back of the net for the first goal and first Minnesota United goal at Allianz Field.
The Loons’ 1-0 lead would not last long, though, as New York City’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi would loft a clean pass over the top of the Minnesota defense on the right wing and directly to Valentin Castellanos. Castellanos snuck through the defense and threaded it home to knot the game at 1-1 in the 16th minute.
Barely two minutes later, it would be Tajouri-Shradi again, this time with the finish. Although the initial attack by NYCFC was rebuffed when Alonso got a block on Tajouri-Shradi’s initial shot, the rebound bounced back to him and he would not be denied a second time as he put the visitors on top 2-1.
But another two minutes had hardly passed when Minnesota struck back. Midfielder Ethan Finlay released beautifully down the right wing and received a long ball over the top from midfielder Jan Gregus. Pelting forward, he fired it across and onto the head of Rodriguez, who nodded it confidently into the back of the net to level the game at 2-2.
"It was a pretty large cat and mouse game," said Heath. "We’d been trying to guess their team all week as I’m sure they were trying to guess ours. So, they caught us at a little surprise with their formation, the way that they played. But, you know, one thing I did say, that they have good players. They have really good, comfortable footballers. They’re all good on the ball, and if you go chasing it, individually, rather than a tight block, keep yourself nice and compact, they will pick you off. They did that too much, certainly in the first half."
Following the flurry of goals — four in seven minutes — the game settled down a bit, especially after play had to be suspended for a few minutes when defender Michael Boxall received a bloody nose. It seemed as if the teams were settling into the game a bit when a major miscue by NYC put the Loons back on top. In position to receive a back pass on the near post of his goal, goalkeeper Sean Johnson let the ball roll right past his foot and into the goal. Johnson would have to endure copious harassment from the Wonderwall in the second half with every touch following that.
In the 41st minute, it looked for a moment like Minnesota United would have a chance to expand the lead from the spot when Finlay was shoved down in the box after getting loose down the wing, but a video review determined that he had been offside on the initial movement. As such, the teams would end up going into the locker room with the home side on top 3-2.
"I thought Romain [Metanire] was outstanding today," said Heath. "I thought he was the best player on the field. I really do. Defensively, in good spots. And attacking-wise, incredible energy. Him and Ethan work really well together there on that side in the first half, and obviously that’s why they made the change."
In an attempt to stymie what was that effective Minnesota link-up down the right side with Metanire and Finlay, New York City brought on Alexandru Mitrita to put pressure down the left wing in attack. The move subdued Minnesota’s attack — at least initially — and led to an opportunity down the middle when Castellanos got around goalkeeper Vito Mannone who had come out of his box and slotted home a shot, but video review showed him settling the ball with his arm and the goal was called off.
In the 64th minute though, a stern challenge from 61st minute substitute Rasmus Schuller on the right wing led to a free kick in a dangerous position. Tajouri-Shradi lined it up and with Minnesota’s defense pushed up a bit too high, the ball sailed directly in on the far post to once again pull the game level at 3-3.
From there, the teams vied for control of the game in different ways. Bringing on Schuller shifted the formation from the team’s usual 4-2-3-1 into more of a 4-3-3 that could drop into a 4-4-2 on defense with Finlay settling back. As Mitrita worked his way into the game, he began to line up some chances down the left wing.
Quintero was eventually subbed off for forward Abu Danladi in the hopes of injecting a shot of energy in the 78th minute, and then, in the 79th minute, Rodriguez’s hold up play earned the Loons a free kick just outside the box. Gregus went direct and forced a tough save by Johnson that led to a corner kick. Minutes later, the Loons would have to go to the bench again after Castellanos knocked heads with defender Ike Opara and opened up a sizable cut on the defender’s head.
In the end, neither team could eke out a winner and Minnesota United would end its home opener with a 3-3 draw and a point.
"Last week going to the Red Bulls, if we would have said we’d get four points over the next two games, we would have probably taken it," said Heath. "But obviously today, we wanted it to be a special day for everybody. It’s been a great day, and pretty much relieved it’s out of the way now and we can concentrate on just doing what we do, which is playing football. I’m glad that it’s all over. I’m glad that we didn’t lose. I thought our supporters were magnificent. I thought the noise in the stadium was incredible. And it bodes for better times ahead."
Minnesota United’s next game is on Friday, April 19 at BMO Field against Toronto FC. That game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Ike Opara (Brent Kallman 84’), Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Ethan Finlay, Romario Ibarra (Rasmus Schuller 61’), Darwin Quintero (Abu Danladi 78’); F Angelo Rodriguez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Eric Miller; M Kevin Molino, Lawrence Olum
New York City FC Starting XI: GK Sean Johnson; D James Sands, Maxime Chanot, Tony Rocha (Alexandru Mitrita HT); M Alexander Ring, Anton Tinnerholm, Ebenezer Ofori, Ronald Matarrita; F Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Jesus Medina 79’), Maximiliano Moralez, Valentin Castellanos (Heber 86’)
NYC Unused Subs: GK Brad Stuver; D Ben Sweat, Sebastien Ibeagha; M Keaton Parks
13’ – Alonso – MIN
16’ – Castellanos (Tajouri-Shradi, Tinnerholm) – NYC
18’ – Castellanos – NYC
20’ – Rodriguez (Finlay, Gregus) – MIN
32’ – Own Goal (Johnson) – MIN
64’ – Tajouri-Shradi – NYC
8’ – Alonso (YC) – MIN
70’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN