On a positively sweltering night in Houston, Minnesota United came into their Round of 16 matchup against the Dynamo with last year’s result on their mind. In 2018, the Loons defeated then-USL side FC Cincinnati to advance to the U.S. Open Cup’s fifth round only to be undone by Houston. While the opening half found the visitors consistently on the back foot and headed into the locker room down two goals, MNUFC would seize the day in the second half with a formation change and come roaring back to a 3-2 win on the back of a brace from midfielder Darwin Quintero and a game-winner from forward Mason Toye. Minnesota United now advances to the Quarterfinals against the winner of tomorrow’s FC Dallas vs. New Mexico United game on Wednesday, July 10 at Allianz Field.
"You would like to say that we changed the shape and that helped us, which I think it did," said Head Coach Adrian Heath following the game. "But, you know, I don’t know why in the first half our passing wasn’t crisp. Combination play. Poor choices. Had a few words at halftime and said let’s go and get the next goal. We’ve all played in games when you’re 2-nil up and you end up losing the game. The next goal was going to determine how the game went. And I thought, if we could get one, then we’d make something of it. Certainly, in the second half, I thought our play was excellent. I think we had 16 efforts at goal. We got the ball wide, we got crosses in, we looked dangerous on set pieces. Playing here, it can give you an excuse to quit at times when you’re 2-nil down. But they didn’t. They kept going, and we live to fight another day."
The game opened with a weighty harbinger of what was to come for the visitors when defender Eric Miller misread a bounce in Minnesota’s box in the third minute, opening up an opportunity for Houston’s Tommy McNamara to send a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Fortunately, defender Chase Gasper was there to challenge on the far post and usher the ball safely over the endline.
In the 10th minute, Houston played a corner kick short that was deflected once it was sent in, but only cleared out to the left side of the box. Once again, McNamara was there to send it in and this time, goalkeeper Vito Mannone was forced to make a save, only to see it trickle away and into the path of Ronaldo Pena who easily struck it home to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
Although the Dynamo continued to dominate play for the next 20 minutes, Minnesota gradually began to work their way into the game. With 15 minutes remaining, it looked like the Loons were building up to something with Miller repeatedly finding space on the right wing to press forward and send searching balls into the box.
But in the 37th minute, a costly error would double Houston’s lead. A loose touch by midfielder Jan Gregus — just back from international duty — was poked away by midfielder Marlon Hairston. Forward Tomas Martinez jumped on the ball and slotted it calmly past Mannone for a 2-0 lead that would hold heading into the break.
A revitalized Minnesota side came flying out of the gates to begin the second half. Heath brought in midfielder Miguel Ibarra off the bench for Eric Miller and shifted Hassani Dotson to right back, giving the team its more customary 4-2-3-1 look. Almost immediately, the shift paid dividends as defender Michael Boxall nearly got on the end of a pretty diagonal ball from Gregus in the 47th minute. Eleven minutes later, Gregus himself would blast an optimistic shot from outside the box and force goalkeeper Eric Nelson into putting the ball over the endline for a corner kick.
That would set off a series of plays that found Nelson — playing his first minute for Houston — making a couple of world-class saves on first forward Angelo Rodriguez and then Ibarra. But the home side could only withstand the onslaught for so long and in the 66th minute, the Loons found the breakthrough.
Quintero flicked the ball on into the box for Rodriguez, who had been playing his customary hold-up role for much of the night. But instead of putting his back to the goal, Rodriguez peeled off and charged for the byline, cutting the ball back in to Quintero, who had continued his run on goal. The Colombians connected and the Loons cut the lead in half.
Minnesota Untied continued its relentless assault, racking up free kicks and opportunities as Houston seemed to wither in the humidity and heat. Houston Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera turned to his bench, bringing on some players who had been brought up from Rio Grande Valley Vipers for the game like Michael Salazar and Carlos Small. But time and again, MNUFC found its way through the Houston defense with excellent passing and deep runs into the final third.
The equalizer, however, was just a cheeky shot. Quintero found himself unmarked in the middle of the pitch about 30 yards out from goal with his fellow attackers prepping runs on either side. But the diminutive Quintero decided to have a goal all on his own, ripping the ball around a Dynamo defender and absolutely destroying Nelson on the right post to draw the Loons level and finish his brace.
"Sometimes, the little break like that and you get on a roll," said Heath of Quintero's recent uptick in scoring. "So, hopefully, that’s the turning point for him. I thought he looked excellent, certainly in the second half. Play was superb."
Given the precipitous momentum shift, it came as little surprise when the visitors locked up the victory in the 90th minute. Midfielder Ethan Finlay beat defender Sam Junqua on the right wing with a nifty little dribble and then sent a curling ball on the ground to substitute Mason Toye, who struck the ball confidently home for his first Minnesota United goal and the game-winner, 3-2.
"We know the coach at New Mexico, Troy [Lesesne]," said Heath. "He’s a good friend of our staff. No doubt they’ll put a good performance up. And obviously, Dallas have got a terrific young side. Either way, we’re going to be at home, so. We’ll enjoy the fact that we’re going to be at home. Our fancy us against anybody at our stadium, so hopefully we can get through that. And then we’re one step away."
Minnesota United will return to U.S. Open Cup action on Wednesday, July 10 at Allianz Field against the winner of tomorrow’s FC Dallas vs. New Mexico United game. The Loons’ return to MLS action against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, June 29 at 3:00 p.m. CT at Allianz Field. Pregame coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Eric Miller (Miguel Ibarra HT), Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Jan Gregus, Lawrence Olum, Hassani Dotson; F Ethan Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez (Mason Toye 74’), Darwin Quintero
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Wyatt Omsberg, Carter Manley; M Collin Martin
Houston Dynamo Starting XI: GK Michael Nelson; D Chris Duvall, Alejandro Fuenmayor; Kevin Garcia, San Junqua; M Boniek Garcia (Matias Vera HT), Juan Cabezas, Marlon Hairston (Michael Salazar 71’), Tomas Martinez, Tommy McNamara; F Ronaldo Peña (Carlos Small 89’)
HOU Unused Subs: GK Joe Willis; D DaMarcus Beasley, AJ Delagarza, Kyle Adams
9’ – Peña – HOU
37’ – Martinez (Hairston) – HOU
66’ – Quintero (Rodriguez) – MIN
82’ – Quintero (Ibarra) – MIN
89’ – Toye (Finlay) – MIN
20’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN
40’ – Fuenmayor (YC) – HOU
90+’ – Olum (YC) – MIN