Facing its third game in seven days and with a looming Quarterfinal in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, Minnesota United was forced to go with a new look starting lineup against Montreal Impact on Saturday night. With seven new starters, the Loons immediately found themselves in trouble after conceding a goal in the first 30 seconds. But the visitors battled their way back to take the lead early in the second half and held on to take all three points and climb to third in the Western Conference.
“I did say to the players before the game that I wanted to be talking about their performance and not having to reflect on leaving people behind and making seven changes,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “But we have to do it. We played Saturday-Wednesday, Saturday-Wednesday and we've got another big week coming up with an Open Cup game on Wednesday. We've got a huge game against Dallas at home next week, all teams in and around us. So we felt as though we had to do it. But I said to the players before the game, I have every confidence in you that you can come and get a result. And they've done that. It was a massive effort considering we conceded a goal within 30 seconds. It was a really good response from there.”
The game couldn’t have begun worse for Minnesota, with Montreal taking advantage of a bit of sluggish defending directly off the whistle. Defender Brent Kallman let Montreal forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel beat him to a long ball into the Loons’ final third. He then cut it back against Kallman and fired it between defender Michael Boxall legs and past goalkeeper Vito Mannone 26 seconds in to make it 1-0.
Stunned by the early goal, MNUFC stumbled in its wake, struggling to get much of the ball against an Impact side that was determined to capitalize on its early lead. For the next several minutes, it seemed like the 4-3-3 formation was not doing the visitors any favors through the middle of the field, where Montreal’s four midfielders made life difficult for the Loons.
“When you concede a goal away from home after 30 seconds, you're on the back foot but then I said to them, the next fifteen minutes after that are crucial,” said Heath. “You can't concede another one because [then] the game's gone and you've hardly started. But we hung in there, weren't playing particularly well, then we started to get a foothold in the game, started to get better control in possession.”
But then, in the ninth minute, we saw how having three up top could cause trouble for the home side’s three-man backline. Midfielder Kevin Molino cut directly out of the top of the midfield towards the right, raising his head for just a moment to survey options before curling the ball up to forward Mason Toye, curling off the shoulder of his defender. The 20 year old settled the ball off his right thigh and fired a right-footed shot with the outside of his boot past goalkeeper Evan Bush to draw MNUFC level at 1-1.
Barely four minutes later, though, Montreal would answer. Midfielder Saphir Taider drove in a corner kick from the left corner that struck defender Rudy Camacho in the chest before dropping fortuitously to his feet. Camacho struck a left-footed shot from point blank range past Mannone, putting the Impact back on top 2-1.
From there, the game settled down, with Montreal continuing to stretch out Minnesota with its wide midfield while Minnesota continued to find pockets of space anytime it managed to get through that mid-pitch logjam. The combination of Molino, Toye and Ethan Finlay nearly always looked dangerous when they got opportunities, but Montreal’s decisive possession advantage kept them from looking dangerous often enough.
The Loons, though, showed a hard-nosed ability to get something out of nothing in the 43rd minute as Finlay found himself isolated in space after taking in a long ball from midfielder Lawrence Olum that whizzed past Montreal’s Victor Cabrera as he fell. As Finlay pushed the ball into the box, Bush refused to commit one way or the other as the midfielder probed him with dribbles. When Finlay committed and sent the ball to the left, Bush cut him off and took him out, resulting in a penalty for Minnesota. The play was sent up for video review and upheld. For the final play of the half, Finlay himself stood over the spot and calmly drilled the ball to the right as Bush dived left. The teams headed into the tunnel even at 2-2.
“I can understand people in the crowd thinking it wasn't a penalty,” said Heath. “I thought it was. At the end of the day, he's knocked the ball by him and then the goalkeeper come into him. It was difficult. When it went to VAR, I thought maybe he would change his mind but fair dues to the ref. He had the courage of his convictions to give what he thought was right.”
Almost as soon as the second half had begun, Minnesota crafted a near carbon copy of its first equalizer. Molino once again sent a curving ball from right to left to Toye. This time, the ball sailed over Cabrera’s head and landed directly in front of Toye, whose soft touch set up a low shot on the far post to give the young player a brace and the Loons the lead at 3-2.
“We've always said that he's an incredible athlete and we've always said that if he can pick up, during games, where and when to run, we feel as though we have a chance,” said Heath of Toye. “Today, two great bits of movement. Two unbelievable balls from Molino by the way for both goals. I'm pleased for Mason, pleased for Kev, because Kev is looking more like his old self again. I thought Chase Gasper at left back was outstanding again. And I thought that we put a really good shift in because these guys haven't played a lot of minutes, so for a different reason, it was tough for them to get through a full 90. But I couldn't have asked any more from them.”
With the visitors holding their first lead of the game, the play got a bit contentious on the field. In the 54th minute, following a controversial referee’s decision that was shown — against policy — on the replay board in the stadium, the benches got into a bit and Montreal’s Fitness Coach, Robert Duverne, was asked to leave the bench.
Determined to make it interesting, Montreal Head Coach Remi Garde took out defender Zakaria Diallo in the 57th minute for attacker Omar Browne. The substitution shifted Montreal’s formation from a three-man backline to a four-man backline and provided more options upfront as the home side made a bid to take back command. It worked almost immediately as Minnesota found themselves in a defensive donnybrook in front of goal as they worked to repel chance after chance, capped off by a tremendous diving save by Mannone on a Browne shot from the top of the 18 in the 64th minute.
By the game’s final 20 minutes, it was evident that after starting on its back foot, Minnesota had settled fully into the game, defending well when called upon and putting together patient, smart strings of passes when in possession. The Loons would need every ounce of poise down the stretch as the Impact leveraged their subs, including Harry Novillo, who came on for Matthieu Choiniere 61st minute, to good effect in attack.
In stoppage time, Browne missed what would have been a worldy into the upper left corner from the top of the 18 and then Mannone was called upon to push a dangerous ball from midfielder Bacary Sagna over the crossbar at nearly the very last minute and then withstand the ensuing set piece to hold onto the lead and get the Loons all three points. Minnesota would head home from Montreal having rotated seven new players into its starting lineup and nine points total from the past week in MLS and five wins in a row across all competitions.
“Any time you can get three goals on the road, it's obviously pleasing for you,” said Heath. “But you know, we had a little spot of three defeats on the trot and we lost to Philly when we created 29 efforts at goal. Couldn't take the chances and people were starting to talk about, do we need to change things. I just kept saying that we have to keep faith with the people we have, keep believing in them, because we were creating chances in games. Now, we start to create chances and we're taking a good percentage of them. It's hopefully onwards and upwards.”
Minnesota United’s next game is a game against USL Championship side New Mexico United in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, July 10 at 7:00 p.m. CT at Allianz Field. That game can be streamed on ESPN+. Fans can also come down to the Brew Hall at Allianz Field beginning at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 7 for a full day of soccer final action, including a $5 beer special. There’ll be a soccer clinic for girls from the East African and Latinx communities on the Great Lawn from 8:00–9:30 a.m., then the World Cup Final kicks off at 10:00 a.m. between the USWNT and the Netherlands, followed by the Copa Americana Final at 3:00 p.m. between Brazil and Peru, and finally the Gold Cup Final at 8:00 p.m. between the USMNT and Mexico.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Eric Miller, Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Lawrence Olum, Collin Martin (Hassani Dotson 70’), Rasmus Schuller, Ethan Finlay (Miguel Ibarra 70’), Kevin Molino; F Mason Toye (Angelo Rodriguez 82’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Wyatt Omsberg, Carter Manley; M Jan Gregus
Montreal Impact Starting XI: GK Evan Bush; D Rudy Camacho, Victor Cabrera, Zakaria Diallo (Omar Browne 57’); M Barcary Sgana, Jukka Raitala, Samuel Piette, Shamit Shome; F Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Maximiliano Urruti 77’), Mathieu Choiniere (Harry Novillo 61’), Saphir Taider
MTL Unused Subs: GK Clement Diop; D Saniel Kinumbe, Zachary Brault-Guillard; M Ken Krolicki
1’ – Jackson-Hamel (Diallo) – MTL
9’ – Toye (Molino) – MIN
13’ – Camacho (Taider) – MTL
45+2’ – Finlay (Penalty) – MIN
47’ – Toye (Molino) – MIN
45+1’ – Bush