In a game with a little extra weight for midfielder Ozzie Alonso, Minnesota United faced the visiting Seattle Sounders at Allianz Field on Saturday night. Alonso spent the first 10 years of his career with Sounders FC before joining MNUFC this past offseason. Each team took their swings, with Minnesota United holding the slight edge early and Seattle getting the upper hand late. In the end, the result was a likely fair 1-1 draw that saw the teams split the points in front of another sold out crowd.
"I thought it was an excellent game of football. I really did," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "I thought we were the better team in the first half. They looked probably a bit more dangerous, and had probably the best chances in the second. But, overall, I’m delighted with the group. I thought some of our play in the first half was excellent. We’re playing against a team – have they been to two of the last three finals? – that’s what you’re up against. You’re bringing 10 million [dollar] guys off the bench. [Raúl] Ruidíaz, and people like that. So, no, I was delighted with our group today. I thought there was a lot of fight. A lot of determination. And it shows how far we’ve come. We don’t take anything from that game, last year. Trust me."
In the game’s opening minutes, Seattle and Minnesota seemed content to feel each other out. Each team took its time setting up after dead balls and looked to build its attack mainly through possession, with the Loons getting the better of that battle early.
Playing in the same 4-3-3 formation they employed against D.C. United, the home side looked more comfortable and creative this week. The midfielders moved wider out to either side to better support the attack, which focused first on the left side before often finding fullback Romain Metanire in space on the right side. For his part, Metanire was aggressive early getting in several crosses and even ripping a proper shot from the right edge of the box that took a deflection and earned MNUFC a corner kick.
"In the first half, you know, we started really bright," said Heath. "Getting Ethan [Finlay] in down that righthand side with his movements, stuff we’ve been working on. I thought the three [in midfield] dictated the tempo and the pace of the game. I thought we were in control of the first half for long periods. So, could we have had more efforts? Probably. Is there something still to work on with that? Yeah. But it’s another system that we’ve sort of played now the last couple of games, and I think we’ve got better with each time at it."
Seattle’s first good opportunity came on the counterattack in the 23rd minute when forward Jordan Morris found himself loosely marked in the box for a cross from the left wing. Morris’ touch let him down, though, as the ball went just wide to the left of the net.
It would be Minnesota United getting on the board first in the 26th minute. With midfielder Jan Gregus over the ball just beyond the box on the right side of the pitch, the team lined up in the box and Gregus’ outswinging kick found the forehead (and part of the face) of defender Ike Opara on the far post. Opara directed the ball back on goal, scoring his first of the season and giving the Loons a 1-0 lead.
"I was more inclined for our end than the other end," said Heath when asked about adding Opara for his capability on headers. "But, no, he’s a big body and he’s incredibly athletic. He’s determined, and if we put the ball in the right spot, he’s difficult to mark."
Seattle responding by settling in better and starting to pull possession back in its favor. In the 42nd minute, it appeared that Metanire slipped on the right side near the edge of the Loons’ box and he went down, opening up an opportunity for a cross from the wing. Although the initial cross was rebuffed by Opara, the clearance fell to midfielder Cristian Roldan beyond the edge of the box and he ripped a rocket of a shot that beat goalkeeper Vito Mannone on the right side of the goal. After a contentious final few minutes that saw Gregus shown a yellow card, the teams headed into the tunnel knotted at 1-1.
MNUFC came out of the gates in the second half firing on all cylinders, getting forward and looking dangerous in the opening minutes. As the second half settled in, the teams took turns threatening on set pieces. In the 64th minute, Gregus fired a pinpoint outswinger that narrowly missed defender Brent Kallman’s head and sailed all the way through the box. Only minutes later, another corner kick evolved into a wild free-for-all in front of goal that saw no fewer than three and possibly four Loons get a touch without managing to put it past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
As the coaches set about the chess game of late game substitutes, Heath opened by taking out midfielder Ethan Finlay for the speedy Romario Ibarra, who moved over to the left and pushed Miguel Ibarra to the right side. Brian Schmetzer countered with brutish defender Roman Torres, signaling a desire to lock down the point on the road. In the 76th minute, Heath brought on midfielder Darwin Quintero, who left the game last week with an ankle injury, but who immediately looked threatening in a formation that shifted to 4-2-3-1.
"I guarantee you that when we got Darwin [Quintero] on the field, they were more concerned with that," said Heath. "Suddenly Darwin is now on the field, and you’re thinking, is he going to keep finding them little pockets of space. And you know, we got him on the ball, and he created a few things."
In the 88th minute, Quintero nearly gave the Loons the lead as he danced into the box and executed a series of cutbacks that opened up enough space for him to chip a shot toward the back post. The shot sailed high, however, and the game would ultimately end a 1-1 draw in a game that saw Minnesota United get the better of Seattle in the first half and the visitors getting a narrow edge in the second.
Minnesota United’s next game is on Saturday, May 11 as the Loons visit Toyota Park to face the Chicago Fire and their old friend Francisco Calvo. 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, Eric Miller; D Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Ethan Finlay (Romario Ibarra 68’), Rasmus Schuller (Darwin Quintero 76’), Miguel Ibarra; F Angelo Rodriguez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Michael Boxall; M Lawrence Olum, Hassani Dotson, Kevin Molino
Seattle Sounders FC Starting XI: GK Stefan Frei; D Brad Smith, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Saad Abdul-Salaam; M Cristian Roldan, Handwalla Bwana (Will Bruin 60’), Jordy Delem, Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez (Raul Ruidiaz 85’); F Jordan Morris (Roman Torres 79’)
SEA Unused Subs: GK Bryan Meredith; D Nouhou Tolo; M Alex Roldan, Harry Shipp
26’ – Opara (Gregus) – MIN
42’ – Roldan – SEA
45’ – Gregus (YC) – MIN