In their third time of asking, the Loons at last got the home win they were craving so badly after a pair of draws to NYCFC and the LA Galaxy. Facing a D.C. United squad that sat atop the Eastern Conference, Minnesota United ran out a similar lineup to the last game — a goalless draw — and the home side once again held strong at the back but this time managed a goal in the game’s final 10 minutes to give them a 1-0 clean sheet win at Allianz Field after a tight game that saw both teams vying for the go-ahead goal.
“I thought we deserved it with our second half performance,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I thought we were outstanding in the second half. We spoke about it at halftime. Can we get further up the pitch? Can we start being a little more positive? Can we get people closer to people? Can we get them out of their comfort zone? And we did, and we got our rewards for it. I’m really proud of the players. Three games in nine days is never easy. I thought we should have took something out of Toronto. I thought we were the better team against LA. And today, certainly in the second half, I think we did enough to win the game.”
Minnesota began the game on the front foot, earning a corner kick in the first minute and a second one in the second. Unfortunately, midfielder Jan Gregus couldn’t make much of either opportunity, perhaps due to some issues with the turf in the corners that were giving players trouble with their plant foot.
“feel for the groundsman, because he had three feet of snow on it for three months,” said Heath. “It hasn’t been easy for him. But, it is cutting up a little bit more than we expected. So we’ll see what we can do to help him and help the grass.”
The first 15 minutes of the game saw Minnesota working the ball back and forth a bit more. So far in the season, the team has found a lot more success down the right side and through the linkups between fullback Romain Metanire and the player ahead of him on the wing, whether it’s been Ethan Finlay, Abu Danladi or Miguel Ibarra. But the 4-3-3 formation seemed to give the team a little more balance through the middle, allowing a more balanced buildup.
“He’s been outstanding, hasn’t he?” said Heath about Metanire. “And I think the back four defended the goal really well again today. I thought the defensive partnership in the middle was very good. Romain [Metanire] gives us that, that little dimension going forward. If there’s a better right back in the league, I’m not seeing him at the minute.”
For their part, D.C. United conceded possession a bit, but still managed to earn some opportunities early, especially from set pieces. In the 17th minute, Gregus tackled Lucas Rodriguez about 30 yards from goal straight out, giving forward Wayne Rooney an opportunity from a dangerous spot for him, but the MNUFC wall stood tall and blocked Rooney’s direct attempt.
In the 21st minute, it looked like D.C. had opened the scoring. The visitors earned a corner kick on the right side that Rooney sent curling in, only to be cleared to the edge of the box. Rodriguez rushed onto it and fired a shot that goalkeeper Vito Mannone made a terrific save on. But Rooney would send it in again off the rebound on the right side and defender Donovan Pines skied over the Loons’ defense to head it in. Moments later, though, a video review was called for and it was found that Frederic Brillant was holding down Mannone’s arm on the header and the call was reversed, leaving the game deadlocked at 0-0.
Down the stretch of the first half, neither team could firmly take command of the game. Each team displayed capability in possession but both found the final ball wanting. Minnesota’s early advantage in possession evaporated in the final five to 10 minutes of the half and D.C. seemed to build momentum through a series of corner kicks, but the teams would head to the locker room with nothing to show for it in a goalless draw.
After only two shots in the first half and none on target, something was going to have to give way for Minnesota if the team was going to eke out a win. Forward Darwin Quintero had gone down hard toward the end of the first half near the endline and six minutes into the second half, he couldn’t go any further. Miguel Ibarra was brought in in the 51st minute and it gave the team a shot of energy on the left side. Ibarra immediately got to work, cutting the ball hard inside to open up some opportunities for fullback Eric Miller to get forward and send balls into the box.
“I thought we got everybody higher up the field,” said Heath about the halftime adjustments. “I thought our energy levels were a bit better. Sometimes just being behind the ball is not enough. You have to put people under pressure. And I thought we did that a lot more. In the second half, I thought our fullbacks picked the moments to go out to their wide guys a lot better, and that took everybody else further up the field. We got the crowd in the game.”
Although the attack began to loosen up a bit, forward Angelo Rodriguez struggled to exert his will on the game in his usual way, through hold-up play. 21-year-old defender Donovan Pines managed to keep him from receiving the ball cleanly in order to create opportunities for other players following the play, so the team adjusted its approach just a bit, and it was enough.
In the 82nd minute, fullback Romain Metanire sent an early cross in on the near post from the right side, catching Rodriguez in full stride toward the goal instead of with his back to it. Rodriguez redirected the ball onto the far post with a deft touch and past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Bill Hamid to give the Loons a 1-0 lead with time winding down.
Over the final eight minutes and stoppage time, Minnesota United had to withstand a suddenly energized D.C. United attack, but the home side were up to it, often winning possession and keeping it with smart ball movement for stretches as the visitors tried time and again to get a ball on frame. Their best opportunity likely came on a corner kick, but Rooney curved the ball harmlessly into the top of the net and time expired shortly after, giving MNUFC its first home win at Allianz Field and first chance to sing “Wonderwall.”
“I’m pleased for everybody,” said Heath. “I’m pleased for ownership. I’m pleased for the supporters. I’m pleased for the players. You know, yesterday, that’s all Fox wanted to talk about. When will we hear ‘Wonderwall’? Which is nice. It’s out of the way now. We can start concentrating and getting our mind on Seattle. Because if we go and pick three more points up there, and that will make the table look even more healthier than it is at the moment.”
Minnesota United’s next game is Saturday, May 4 against the visiting Seattle Sounders at Allianz Field. That game kicks off 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, Eric Miller; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Abu Danladi (Hassani Dotson 85’), Rasmus Schuller, Darwin Quintero (Miguel Ibarra 51’); F Angelo Rodriguez (Ethan Finlay 90’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Boxall; M Kevin Molino, Romario Ibarra
D.C. United Starting XI: GK Bill Hamid; D Donovan Pines, Frederic Brillant (Quincy Amarikwa 85’), Steven Birnbaum; M Chris Durkin, Junior Moreno, Leonardo Jara (Ulises Segura HT), Lucas Rodriguez (Zoltan Stieber 78’); F Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney
DC Unused Subs: GK Chris Seitz; D Akeem Ward, Jalen Robinson
82’ – Rodriguez (Metanire) – MIN
19’ – Metanire (YC) – MIN
45’ – Birnbaum (YC) – DC