On a nearly perfect spring Sunday afternoon, Minnesota United hosted the Philadelphia Union for its third annual Pride Game in MLS. Allianz Field was draped in rainbows for the event, but despite robust support and more than two dozen shots, MNUFC could not wrangle a win out of an open game that thrilled fans even as it disappointed the Minnesota faithful. The head coach, though, found plenty to praise when it came to the team's effort and their will to see the game out.
"I’m proud of the players," said Heath. "I thought we were magnificent. I thought some of our play was outstanding. You know, we’ve been talking about taking our opportunities when they come. Hey, a little better of a percentage of that, we would have been probably clear. But, I’m not going to let that mask what was an outstanding performance on the back of the shift that the guys did on Wednesday in Atlanta. I thought there was some fantastic performances. I thought Hassani [Dotson] was fantastic again. Ike [Opara] was good. I thought the two center midfield players were excellent. There’s been a lot of positives tonight, and it doesn’t seem like many for me at this minute, but I’m sure, I’ll watch the game back again this evening, and tomorrow no doubt, there will be a lot of stuff that I can be really, really pleased about."
Minnesota United came out of the gates on the front foot, putting together a strong chunk of possession shortly after the opening whistle that had them sending the ball back and forth across the box without opening any opportunities. For their part, Philadelphia showed a willingness early to harass the MNUFC backline, eventually forcing defender Brent Kallman to play a ball back over the endline in desperation for the Union’s first corner kick in the fifth minute.
In the seventh minute, the Loons’ first real chance on goal would be a harbinger of their future efforts. After forward Angelo Rodriguez played a long diagonal ahead to midfielder Ethan Finlay, Finlay ran onto goal and fired a left-footed shot that was blocked out to Rodriguez, who fired again and was blocked again.
A similar sequence in the 13th minute led to a flurry of saves and blocks for the Union, who would block 15 of Minnesota’s 29 shots. Rodriguez’s initial shot was saved by goalkeeper Andre Blake, but midfielder Darwin Quintero jumped on the rebound. His attempt was troubled by Blake and then Rodriguez’s second attempt of the sequence was chested away by defender Jack Elliott on the goalline.
"That’s called good defending. That’s great defending," said Heath. "I’ve just said it in the dressing room there. I thought some of their last-ditch defending was of the highest order. People throwing their bodies on the line to stop goal-bound shots. The keeper came up big when he needed to. Came for crosses in traffic. But I’m not going to stand here and criticize my players, because they don’t deserve it."
Despite Minnesota’s dominance of possession in the early going, which approached 60%, it was Philadelphia who broke open the scoring in the 17th minute. Forward Kacper Przybylko drove the ball down the left wing and fired it into Sergio Santos streaking into the box. Kallman tried to beat Santos to the ball but ended up fouling him in the box and conceding a penalty. Midfielder Jamiro Monteiro lined it up and drilled it into the lower right corner past goalkeeper Vito Mannone to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
"One thing I will say, I thought they were very, very good and shall we say, professional, at knowing when to stay down," said Heath. "I thought they broke the floor of the game up. We had the energy of the crowd going and suddenly every time that ball went in the box, somebody was down. And it doesn’t really help you when the goalkeeper gets booked in the 94th or the 95th minute. Doesn’t really help you."
The home side would not have to wait too long to catch up, though. Defender Hassani Dotson, starting in his third MLS game, found himself with a tremendous opening. Midfielder Jan Gregus fired a cross into the box that was cleared out high to the left wing. Dotson charged on it and launched a half-volley that beat Blake and pinged off the near post and in to give the rookie his first MLS goal and draw the Loons level at 1-1.
"The people who work here a lot have come to train him and know what my feelings towards him are," said Heath of the rookie. "I said last week, he just gets a good feel for the game. He’s got really good feet. Very competitive, which is probably one of his strong points. He understands the game. And I think he’ll be one of them guys who could probably play like he’s done today, and in three or four different spots as well. So he can be pleased with his contribution this last seven or eight days."
It looked like the teams would head into halftime deadlocked, but in the 44th minute, Santos fell a few yards beyond the box on the left side and the Union were awarded a free kick. Midfielder Haris Medunjanin stood over the ball and ripped a shot over the wall and toward the upper left corner. Mannone got his fingertips on it, but the ball still snuck into the net to push Philadelphia up 2-1 going into the break.
The second half picked up directly where the first left off, with both teams building up chunks of possession and trading runs of corner kicks again and again. It remained an open game, although not necessarily and end-to-end one, with each team working to create opportunities with the ball rather than with their feet.
In the 53rd minute, Mannone made an excellent save on a header by defender Auston Trusty directly in front of the face of goal. Minutes later, Minnesota was on the attack as Gregus played a long ball ahead to Finlay, whose speed let him get out ahead of the defense and into the box. He knocked a low cross toward Rodriguez on the far post, but it was deflected out by Philadelphia for a corner kick, leading to another sequence of corner kicks for the home side that would eventually sputter out.
Minnesota continued to ring up chances, including an absolute sitter in front of goal for Quintero that landed directly in Blake’s hands, until the 69th minute, when Heath decided it was time to shake things up. He took out Finlay and Quintero for Abu Danladi and Kevin Molino, a pairing that would pay dividends in the 77th minute.
Danladi received the ball on the right wing and worked it all the way up to the endline through the defense, eventually firing it back across to the corner of the six-yard box and a waiting Molino. Molino tapped it up with his boot and drove a short, hard shot past Trusty and Blake to once again draw MNUFC level at 2-2. It was a long time coming for the midfielder, who missed almost all of last season following a knee injury.
"He came on and gave us the creativity that we know he’s got," said Heath. "I think the year before we bought him, he got well into double figures in assists. You know, he needs to get himself going again, but if he stays fit, he’s a top player at this level. That’s a fact. Because we’ve seen it. And what we need now is for him to stay fit. He’s got the Gold Cup coming up, so he’s got games with Trinidad [and Tobago] coming up. I know they like him, so hopefully when he comes back from that, he’ll be a lot sharper and fitter than he is at this moment in time. Because that extra sharpness and explosiveness is only given to you by games, not the amount of work you can do Monday to Friday."
Again, it appeared as if the teams would be heading to the whistle knotted at two when Philadelphia sub Ilsinho launched a ball in from the left wing that found its way to the feet of Trusty, who nimbly tapped it in past Mannone to put the visitors on top. Despite Minnesota’s best efforts through the end of regulation and in stoppage, the finishing was lacking and the Loons’ unbeaten streak at Allianz Field was snapped. The Union headed home with a 3-2 victory and all three points.
Minnesota United’s next game is on Saturday, June 8 against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods park in Commerce City. That game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 7:30 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, Miguel Ibarra; M Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus, Ethan Finlay (Abu Danladi 69’), Hassani Dotson, Darwin Quintero (Kevin Molino 69’); F Angelo Rodriguez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Eric Miller, Michael Boxall; M Lawrence Olum, Rasmus Schuller
Philadelphia Union Starting XI: GK Andre Blake; D Auston Trusty, Jack Elliot, Kai Wagner, Ray Gaddis; M Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Jamiro Monteiro (Ilsinho 86’); F Brenden Aaronson (Warren Creavalle 70’), Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos (Marco Fabian 63’)
PHI Unused Subs: GK Matt Freese; D Aurelian Collin, Olivier Mbaizo; F Michel Ngalina
18’ – Monteiro (PK) – PHI
28’ – Dotson – MIN
44’ – Medunjanin – PHI
77’ – Molino (Danladi, Metanire) – MIN
86’ – Trusty (Ilsinho) – PHI
17’ – Kallman (YC) – MIN
45+2’ – Aaronson (YC) – PHI
89’ – Wagner (YC) – PHI
90+1’ – Gaddis (YC) – PHI
90+3’ – Blake (YC) – PHI