With a berth in the U.S. Open Final against Atlanta United on the line, Minnesota United defeated the Portland Timbers 2-1 – the second result of its kind in four days. A first half penalty kick from Darwin Quintero and a second half breakaway finish from Mason Toye cancelled out Brian Fernandez’s lone goal for the Timbers. In a near replica of Sunday’s MLS game, the Portland Timbers looked the most dangerous in transition while the Loons found success by attacking down the flanks. Ironically, it was a route-one through-ball over the top from Kevin Molino that found the feet of Mason Toye and made the difference. Toye calmly received the ball in stride and dispatched Portland’s Steve Clark for the game-winner, his second in Open Cup play.
“[I’m] obviously delighted for everybody,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I thought the noise in the stadium was incredible. [The] players have worked so hard recently. If you look at the games that we’ve had in probably the last month, it seems like everyone’s been really, a must win and that weighs on you mentally as well as physically. To come through again like we’ve done again is a testament to all of the players.”
The first 10 minutes set the tone for the game as each side had chances that personified their play styles. In the eighth minute, Portland’s Diego Chara won the ball in midfield and charged forward into an open pocket of space down the center of the field. He then opened his body and slid a pass wide to a cutting Sebastian Blanco who took an early shot that was parried to safety by Vito Mannone. The early chance came through Portland’s transition offense which had the alarm bells ringing for the Loons. Minutes later Minnesota responded through an out-swinging Jan Gregus corner kick that found Michael Boxall’s head in the Portland penalty area. Boxall dragged his header just wide of the target and from only seven yards away, the defender will feel as if he should’ve scored.
Spurred by their early glimpse at goal, the home side turned up the heat on the Timbers and found the first goal of the game in the 23rd minute. Starting in place of Angelo Rodriguez, Mason Toye was bundled over just outside of the Portland penalty area as he checked to receive a ball at his feet. On the ensuing free kick, Darwin Quintero attempted to send a curling effort over the wall set by Portland but his effort was blocked by the outstretched arm of Jeremy Ebobisse. Right on the scene, the referee immediately pointed to the spot and awarded a penalty kick to Minnesota United. Quintero made no mistake from 12 yards as a he sent a sprawling Steve Clark the wrong direction and calmly slotted the ball home to give the Loons a 1-0 advantage.
Determined not to let another lone penalty kick goal sink them – as it did on Sunday – the Portland Timbers clawed their way back into the game. Just before the halftime whistle, an early Portland cross sent into the Minnesota box was knocked down by Jeremy Ebobisse and found Brian Fernandez. The Argentinian, who is notorious for playing on the shoulder of the defender, snuck onto Ebobisse’s redirection and fired past a diving Vito Mannone to draw the Timbers level on the stroke of halftime. In what was truly a bang-bang play, Fernandez was kept just barely onside by Boxall’s foot as he attempted to spring the offside trap.
“I thought we were at our worst, the last ten minutes, the last fifteen minutes of the first half,” said Heath. “When you don’t do your job properly, you start turning the ball over and you start losing your discipline and losing your shape against good players, you’re going to get punished and that’s what we had.”
Determined to flush out the frustration of conceding a deflating goal just before halftime, the Loons came out of the locker room looking to run directly at the Portland defense. Wide midfielders Robin Lod and Kevin Molino – who replaced Ethan Finlay and Miguel Ibarra in the starting XI – looked creative out wide as they continually fed overlapping fullbacks Chase Gasper and Romain Metanire. A bit of wide play almost led to a second Minnesota goal in the 54th minute as Robin Lod – who drifted between Portland’s lines all night – latched onto a Darwin Quintero pass and sent a through ball wide to Chase Gasper. The fullback crossed on his left foot first time and found the head of Kevin Molino, whose effort rolled agonizingly wide of Portland’s far post.
Just 10 minutes later the Loons came back hungry for more as they could feel the momentum tipping in their favor. In the 65th minute, a clean body check by Jan Gregus on Brian Fernandez allowed the Slovakian to roll a pass into the feet of Kevin Molino. As Molino turned and picked his head up, he spotted the run of Mason Toye who had darted in behind Portland’s Claude Dielna. Molino sent a deftly weighted through ball over the head of the centerback and into the path of Toye. Showing off his pace and composure, Toye raced through on goal, settled the ball in stride and pulled off a Thierry Henry-esque finish as he opened his body and curled a right-footed shot past Steve Clark to give the Loons a 2-1 advantage.
Holding a slender lead, Minnesota United looked to put bodies behind the ball and hit Portland on the counterattack — a bit of the visitors’ own medicine as the Timbers had relied heavily on the counterattack in both recent games. In the last 20 minutes, Vito Mannone faced a barrage of shots from Brian Fernandez and Sebastian Blanco, who looked to be a threat for the Timbers all night. Standing his ground, Mannone was there time and time again to stifle the efforts of the Timbers as they looked to equalize for the second time on the night.
The best chance of the second half for the Timbers came in stoppage time when a wickedly struck cross from Sebastian Blanco flew into the Minnesota penalty area, careened off a helpless Mannone, bounced off a Minnesota body and then back off the post and onto the knee of Diego Valeri, somehow staying out of Minnesota’s net. To Portland’s dismay, Mason Toye’s winning goal stood as the final whistle blew, sending the Loons into the U.S. Open Cup Final against Atlanta United.
“Sometimes you earn your luck and I thought that we earned our luck tonight,” said Heath. “Vito came up with a couple of really big saves when we needed him. He’s been immense the last two or three weeks and the top goalkeepers always save you when they need to, the big save, the crucial moment. You know, he’s done it again for us tonight, a couple of outstanding saves and a little bit of luck.”
Minnesota United’s next game – in only three days’ time – is a reverse fixture against FC Dallas as the Loons travel to Toyota Stadium on Saturday, August 10 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Pregame coverage begins 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, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Kevin Molino (Ethan Finlay 76’), Robin Lod, Darwin Quintero (Hassani Dotson 72’); F Mason Toye (Abu Danaldi 71’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Wyatt Omsberg; M Rasmus Schuller, Lawrence Olum
Portland Timbers Starting XI: GK Steve Clark; D Claude Dielna (Tomas Conechny 89’), Jorge Moreira, Larrys Mabiala, Zarek Valentin; M Cristhian Paredes (Andres Flores 66’), Dairon Asprilla (Diego Valeri 72’), Diego Chara, Jeremy Ebobisse, Sebastian Blanco; F Brian Fernandez
POR Unused Subs: GK Kendall McIntosh; D Jorge Villafana; M Bill Tuiloma; F Marvin Loria
22’ – Quintero (PK) – MIN
45+2’ – Fernandez (Ebobisse) – POR
64’ – Toye (Molino) – MIN
26’ – Gregus (YC) – MIN
37’ – Boxall (YC) – MIN
51’ – Opara (YC) – MIN
76’ – Dielna (YC) – POR
90+3’ – Valentin (YC) – POR