Coming into the second of two important home games before an extended stretch on the road, Minnesota United was hoping to take six points on the week against an Orlando City SC team that’s been the definition of inconsistent this season. While MNUFC dominated most areas of the game through 90 minutes, it struggled to find a final ball and let Orlando hang around long enough to draw a penalty that put the visitors up 1-0. A last minute strike by Abu Danladi saved a point for the home side and ended the game a 1-1 draw that the Loons will surely feel they should have gotten more from.
"It’s two dropped," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "If you don’t think that we didn’t deserve something out of this game, you don’t know anything about football. My God, I don’t know how many chances we’ve had, how many final third entries, how many opportunities we’ve had to pick a pass. Two dropped."
Despite missing one of its key midfield players in Osvaldo Alonso, Minnesota United grabbed hold of the game early on and barely let up. In the fifth minute, midfielder Darwin Quintero cut a nifty run up the left but forward Angelo Rodriguez was called offside, as he would be again four minutes later following a shot from midfielder Ethan Finlay from the right side that popped up off an Orlando defender.
The home side’s chances came from multiple angles and distances on the pitch, from crosses to long through balls to cannons from distance. They consistently worked the ball through midfielder Jan Gregus and Hassani Dotson in the middle third in order to cut through seams in the final third and create chances. This also led to set pieces, including one in the 13th minute from Gregus that flew all the way across the box before finding defender Ike Opara on the far side. Opara’s header, though, was just wide left.
"I thought Jan [Gregus] and Hassani [Dotson] were excellent," said Heath. "I thought Chase Gasper was maybe the best player on the field. Absolutely amazing, the two kids, absolutely fantastic."
In the 20th minute, a handball was called on the visitors after a cross from Romain Metanire hit a defender’s arm. On the ensuing free kick, Gregus delivered another pinpoint pass, this time onto Rodriguez’s head, but the forward’s header went over the crossbar.
Rodriguez’s evening would end early, though, after he came up lame in the 26th minute after picking the ball off an Orlando defender. Clutching his right leg, he immediately called for trainer Stacey Hardin. With Mason Toye unavailable due to suspension, Heath called Abu Danladi’s number in the 28th minute.
"They [Angelo Rodriguez and Abu Danladi] are two different types of players. Abu [Danladi] is more about pace and all about running in behind, trying to stretch the field. Angelo [Rodriguez] is more about [ball] into feet, posting up, trying to bring [other] people into the game. I thought we started the first 35, 40 minutes really, really well and it was only a matter of time before we got a goal. Days like this, like we said last week against Colorado, if you don’t take your chances when they’re coming along then eventually it’s going to punish you."
Orlando’s best chance came in the 34th minute when midfielder Benji Michel shook loose from Minnesota’s staunch defending and launched a cross from the left wing onto midfielder Robinho’s feet. The Brazilian, though, skied it harmlessly over the goal.
Throughout the final 10 minutes of the first half, Minnesota would mount attack after attack, including a nasty knuckling shot from outside the box by Hassani Dotson that just missed the goal wide right and a picture perfect pass from defender Chase Gasper on the left wing that sailed through the penalty box, narrowly missing the sliding feet of both Danladi and Finlay before trickling out over the opposite sideline.
In all, the Loons rang up 15 shots to Orlando’s three, but failed to convert on any of the numerous chances, with only three shots being on target. The teams headed into the locker room deadlocked at 0-0 and with the Loons no doubt feeling they should have done better with their finishing to put them up by two, three or even four goals.
"[We’ve] got to do better, I just told the players," said Heath. "[We] can’t keep getting our football between both boxes. Tonight at times, [our football] has been absolutely outstanding. [There] was just not enough quality in the final third. We can hide behind it if we want, no we can’t. We’ve got to do better, individually and collectively."
When the teams took the field for the second half, Orlando City had a bit of spring in its step, looking marginally more energetic and committed than in the first half. Minnesota, however, continued its dominance of the ball in all areas of the field save for the final third. With the final ball still lacking, Heath went to his bench in the 59th minute, bringing in Robin Lod for Kevin Molino. In the 65th minute, Lod justified the move with a great look directly in front of goal. As the ball rolled from right to left just outside of Orlando’s six-yard box, Lod wheeled and fired it on the left post but Brian Rowe was equal to the task and stretched out to deny him.
The texture of the game changed dramatically in the 68th minute. Orlando pressed up hard on center backs Michael Boxall and Ike Opara, forcing a turnover that popped ahead for a streaking Nani. Opara turned and gave chase, tracking the attacker into the box where he stumbled and fell before being awarded a penalty. Minnesota’s appeals fell on deaf ears and Nani confidently struck the penalty kick left and past the outstretched fingers of Vito Mannone to give the visitors a 1-0 lead despite being on the back foot the entire evening.
Orlando’s response to going up was to bunker up in the back, often putting nine players in and around the box to stymie the Loons. It largely worked, with Minnesota being forced to go out wide to find opportunities to cross that too often fell to the heads of Orlando City defenders.
But then, in stoppage time, an unlikely hero emerged to save a point for the home side. Metanire took a long throw deep on the right side that found Opara waiting in the box. Opara knocked it on and an Orlando defender tried to clear it but sent it directly to Abu Danladi. The forward — badly in need of a goal after a lackluster 2019 so far — rounded on it and buried it to pull the Loons level at 1-1.
The celebration was almost cut short when Gasper was whistled for a handball at the other end as Orlando tried to get two points back at the last moment. The play, though, was sent to video review and it was determined that the correct call was offside on Orlando before the handball in question, saving Minnesota from having to defend a second penalty kick on the night.
Despite an evening of overall dominance that saw Minnesota rack up 22 shots to Orlando’s five and possess the ball 54.1% of the time, the Loons were fortunate to come out with a point that will feel meager, no matter how needed it might end up being for playoff hopes in a Western Conference that’s still up in the air.
"Well, unlucky, [a] good save, bad finishing, a mixture of everything, I think," said Heath about the lack of finishing. "If the final ball was a better choice, at times. It’s a disappointment. I’m disappointed that we haven’t got the three points. I know people might think, well he scored late, it’s a point. I always say to you guys, never underestimate getting a point at any stage of the season. It might prove [to be] really valuable to us moving forward. My overriding thought is the disappointment at this moment."
Minnesota United’s next game is Thursday, August 22 on the road against Sporting Kansas City. That game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN and 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, Hassani Dotson, Ethan Finlay (Miguel Ibarra 77’), Darwin Quintero, Kevin Molino (Robin Lod 59’); F Angelo Rodriguez (Abu Danladi 28’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Brent Kallman; M Lawrence Olum, Rasmus Schuller
Orlando City SC Starting XI: GK Brian Rowe; D Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané, Kyle Smith; M Will Johnson (Carlos Ascues 77’), Nani, Jhegson Sebastián Méndez; F Benji Michel, Dom Dwyer (Tesho Akindele 63’), Robinho (Mauricio Pereyra 46’)
ORL Unused Subs: GK Greg Ranjitsingh; D Shane O’Neill, Alex De John; M Sacha Kljestan
70’ – Nani (PK) – ORL
90+2’ – Danladi – MIN
32’ – Gregus (YC) – MIN
57’ – Dwyer (YC) – ORL
63’ – Gasper (YC) – MIN
70’ – Opara (YC) – MIN