Hot off seven wins in a row across all competitions, Minnesota United came into Rio Tinto Stadium to face Real Salt Lake brimming with confidence but also lacking some key pieces — both captain Osvaldo Alonso and forward Angelo Rodriguez would miss the game due to injury. With Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye filling in ably, the Loons played Real Salt Lake to a standstill, striking first in the second half before conceding and then almost coming back on a long shot from midfielder Jan Gregus that struck the woodwork in the 88th minute. In the end, each team would leave with a point in the 1-1 draw, a perhaps disappointing but ultimately fair and valuable result for a Minnesota team working to keep its position in the playoff picture.
“I thought we did very well and showed good quality in attacking areas," said Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath. "We've restricted a really good attacking team, threats out wide a little bit of craftiness with Rusnák underneath. Kreilach gives them good experience in the box. Defensively, I thought we were outstanding, restricted them to a few long-range efforts. Certainly, in the first half, I thought if we got a little bit more quality on the final ball, we would have caused more problems.”
Both teams opened the game a bit unfocused. Whether it was due to coming through the thickest part of the schedule or the altitude in Sandy, Utah, MNUFC in the early going looked less than sharp and Real Salt Lake seemed to rely a lot on physical play to bully the ball away from the visitors whenever possible. In the absence of midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus stepped to the fore as the commander in the middle of the field while Hassani Dotson — starting his first MLS game at his natural center midfield position — played the apprentice and did it well, ultimately making several timely defensive interventions in Minnesota’s box late in the game.
The bulk of the first half was played in the middle of the pitch, with neither team seizing the moment and putting the screws to the opponent. Although there were opportunities, it would be difficult to call any of them quality. One of the early season highlights for MNUFC was the interplay between midfielder Ethan Finlay and defender Romain Metanire, but with Metanire freshly returned from international duty with Madagascar, it was clear that there was a bit of rust to shake off there. Likewise with Gregus, who pinged several balls just beyond the run of the defender.
The Loons first best opportunity came in the 24th minute when Gregus took the ball from the middle of the field out to the right but, finding nothing there, cut it back to his left and ripped a left-footed shot that went just inches wide of the left post. Facing goalkeeper Nick Rimando — who just became the first MLS player to play in 500 MLS games — it quickly became apparent that the Loons were not going to catch Rimando making mistakes, and so simply trying to beat him with hard shots was not a bad idea.
Although MNUFC would mount some pressure in the first half’s dying minutes, neither team could quite find their mojo in the first half, ultimately. Midfielder Albert Rusnak had to keep dropping deep between the center backs to try and get the play moving forward while on the other end, midfielder Darwin Quintero — so dangerous in space — couldn’t quite get his body square to the goal with the ball in threatening positions. The squads headed into the locker room deadlocked at 0-0.
Right off the whistle, Jefferson Savarino lined up a juicy opportunity for the home side. Cutting in from the left wing past Metanire, who rarely gets beat, he curled in a right-footed shot that forced goalkeeper Vito Mannone to dive and punch the ball wide. Ten minutes into the second half, though, it was clear that Minnesota was beginning to build up some momentum. Gregus blasted another shot from distance in the 57th minute, this time forcing Rimando to put it over the byline for a corner kick. Off the corner kick, Toye headed Gregus’ effort toward the far post and a waiting Quintero. Although Quintero was nearly on the goalline, midfielder Everton Luiz kept him onside when he failed to clear off the line and Quintero’s header gave the Loons a 1-0 lead.
The goal instantly galvanized the home side, who found new life as they threw attackers forward in an effort to pull the game level. In the 70th minute, Metanire made a timely intervention on a cross that was threading its way to defender Donny Toia, forcing a corner kick. Off the set piece, the ball was cleared out of the box and toward the right wing, where a waiting Savarino fired the ball back in toward defender Marcelo Silva. Sila took the ball on one hop and drilled it off Mannone’s foot and into the goal to make it 1-1.
While Minnesota almost answered immediately off a cross from substitute Miguel Ibarra that narrowly missed Quintero’s head, it was the Claret-and-Cobalt who would begin to surge forward as the game entered its final five minutes. Captain Kyle Beckerman got his head on a cross directly in front of goal, but a clutch step by defender Ike Opara sent the ball over the crossbar.
Once they’d repelled the home side, the visitor came perilously close to pulling out the win in the 88th minute. It was once again Gregus lining up a long line drive shot, this time from the left side of the pitch. Rimando could only watch the ball sail by, knowing he was beat, but the ball pinged off the far post and rolled right back to Rimando, where it bounced off him and toward the right. Minnesota continued to apply pressure, winning many throw-ins in Real Salt Lake’s final third, but ultimately, the team’s would split the points on the night.
“The games have always been tight," said Heath. "We've had a couple of big wins over at home but here generally, the games are always a bit lively here. I thought it was a fiercely contested game, at times I thought the quality was a bit lacking tonight from both teams. For us, it’s another good point on the road and now it’s eight games in all competitions now without a defeat, we’re just going to keep it going now.”
Minnesota United’s next game is against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Allianz Field on Saturday, July 27 at 7:00 p.m. Pregame coverage starts 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 Chase Gasper, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Romain Metanire; M Hassani Dotson, Jan Gregus, Kevin Molino (Miguel Ibarra 62’), Darwin Quintero (Lawrence Olum 87’); F Mason Toye (Abu Danladi 79’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman; M Collin Martin, Rasmus Schuller
Real Salt Lake Starting XI: GK Nick Rimando; D Brooks Lennon, Donny Toia, Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva; M Albert Rusnak (Joao Plata 77’), Everton Luiz, Jefferson Savarino, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastian Saucedo (Crey Baird 58’); F Damir Kreilach
RSL Unused Subs: GK David Ochoa; D Erik Holt; M Luke Mullholland, Nick Besler; F Tate Schmitt
57’ – Quintero (Toye, Gregus) – MIN
70’ – Silva (Savarino) – RSL
21’ – Lennon (YC) – RSL
26’ – Gregus (YC) – MIN