After a bitterly disappointing defeat to Atlanta United in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday, Minnesota United was faced with the daunting task of defeating league-leading LAFC at the Banc of California Stadium. Two stunning goals from Mason Toye and a triumphant clean sheet from Vito Mannone and his defense propelled the Loons to an improbable 2-0 win as Minnesota became the first team to take three points at the Banc in 2019. LAFC, who were without presumptive MVP Carlos Vela due to a hamstring injury, were unable to break down an organized and compact Minnesota United defense while looking extremely vulnerable on Minnesota through balls in behind. Defending in a deep low block, MNUFC soaked up waves of LAFC pressure and, in response, hit the hosts on multiple decisive and deadly counter attacks.
“I think we had to be the most disciplined that we've been all season,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We spoke about trying to get the people in the right spots, defending the box in a certain way, trying to make a play in front of us and not allow big spaces in between the lines and in behind us. I thought our discipline was absolutely magnificent and we knew that they would go nearly man-for-man at the back when they were attacking and Mason's quick. People don't realize how quick he is and we knew that we would get opportunities on the break. I have to say, I didn't expect the two goals — certainly the second one anyways.”
Opting to play with three centerbacks in Ike Opara, Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman, Heath deployed a new look 3-5-2 Minnesota United side that looked to sit deep, frustrate LAFC and hit on the counter. The Loons established their style of play early on as the first 10 minutes presented LAFC with the challenge of defending a flurry of searching long balls over the top looking for the runs of either Mason Toye or Darwin Quintero.
The Loons carved out their first chance in the 11th minute. Stepping out of defense and emphatically winning the ball, Michael Boxall made a gallivanting run forward, as he has done so often this season. Spotting Mason Toye running in behind the LAFC defense, Boxall rolled a pass into the feet of the forward that put him in on goal. Keeping his composure, Toye rounded LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega but was unable to carve out a shot on net as he squared back to Darwin Quintero who lost possession of the ball.
LAFC then immediately responded to the early Minnesota United pressure in the 14th minute as Brian Rodriguez – who took the place of the injured Carlos Vela – made a darting run in behind Wilfried Moimbe-Tahrat. Latching onto a through ball, Rodriguez ripped a first-time shot that was palmed away by Vito Mannone but only to the feet of Latif Blessing. Attempting to redirect the ball back at goal, Blessing was then denied by Brent Kallman who threw his body in the way to block the Ghanaian’s effort.
In true end-to-end fashion, an LAFC chance in the 25th minute quickly turned into Minnesota’s first goal of the night. After a save from Vito Mannone, the ball was quickly distributed by Jan Gregus who found the feet of Mason Toye who was idling at midfield. Receiving the ball, turning and spreading the play to the middle of the field, Toye found an open Jan Gregus who had joined the attack. Toye then continued his run and latched onto a Gregus through ball and made his way into the LAFC penalty area. From a tight angle, Toye then wonderfully shaped a left-footed shot past Pablo Sisniega to give the Loons a shocking 1-0 lead in Los Angeles.
Speechless from the opening Minnesota goal, Banc of California Stadium fell silent, which it rarely does. Taking advantage of the lull in noise, Darwin Quintero could’ve doubled the Loons lead when he went one-on-one with LAFC’s Eddie Segura in the 27th minute. Twisting and turning as he dribbled at Segura, Quintero cut onto his right foot and unleashed a low shot that flew just wide of the LAFC far post.
Just two minutes later, Minnesota United did indeed strike again in stunning fashion as Mason Toye scored his second goal of the night. Taking advantage of an LAFC turnover, Toye grabbed a loose ball in the Minnesota attacking third, turned and fired a blistering left-footed shot, this time from almost 25 yards out. Taking Sisniega by surprise, the shot flew past the diving goalkeeper to give the Loons a spectacular 2-0 lead.
“This is a kid who continually wants to work hard,” said Heath of Mason Toye. “He's working hard at his craft and as I always say to the players, you get out what you put in, and we have to bring him off the training ground, literally we have to bring him in and tell him, 'No more.' To save his energy, to save his legs, because he just wants to keep working away and trying to get better.”
Frustrated by the Loons sitting deep and defending compactly, LAFC continued to mount the pressure heading into the latter stages of the first half. Facing a barrage of LAFC possession, shots, crosses and corner kicks the Loons kept their mantle and continued to stifle the home side.
The Loons should’ve added a third in the 42nd minute when Darwin Quintero couldn’t take advantage of a two-versus-one situation. Breaking through the LAFC press once again and receiving the ball high up the field, Quintero and Toye found themselves with a clear path to goal, bar a single LAFC defender. But Quintero left his through ball short for Mason Toye, who would’ve been in on goal. The frustrating error from Quintero took the two sides to the break with Minnesota United holding a slim 2-0 lead.
Not making any changes at halftime, Adrian Heath came out of the locker room intent on rolling with what had worked for his side throughout the first half – defend deep and hit on the counter. Heath’s game plan took a bit of a turn in the 49th minute when Darwin Quintero, who had looked dangerous combining with Mason Toye, was forced off due to injury. Quintero made way for Kevin Molino, who slotted in behind Mason Toye, dropping a bit deeper than the position the Colombian had held.
Looking to halve the deficit, LAFC was denied by another impressive stop from Vito Mannone in the 59th minute. After Latif Blessing was brought down on the edge of the Minnesota penalty area by Brent Kallman, LAFC’s veteran midfielder Lee Nguyen stepped up to the free kick and attempting to curl an effort over the Minnesota wall and into the top corner of Mannone’s net. Diving to his right, Mannone made a sprawling stop to deny Nguyen from getting the hosts on the board.
Responding well to LAFC’s second half pressure, the Loons should’ve put the game to bed through yet another sloppy giveaway from LAFC in the 66th minute. This time an errant pass out of the back from Pablo Sisniega saw the ball fall directly at the feet of Mason Toye who then had a clean look at goal. Instead of choosing to shoot, Toye squared to Kevin Molino who was denied from seven yards out by Sisniega, whose save made up for his error.
The last 20 minutes presented MNUFC with the demanding task of defending wave after wave of LAFC attacking play. In response, Adrian Heath looked to change from his 3-5-2 formation to an even more defensive 5-4-1 setup.
The formation change allowed LAFC to turn the screws as the Loons had almost every player defending behind the ball. In the 76th minute, second half LAFC substitute Joshua Perez cut inside on his left foot and sent a curling effort at the MNUFC far post which produced a wonderful fingertip save from Vito Mannone to once again preserve the clean sheet.
Holding their 2-0 lead into stoppage time, LAFC’s final chance to grab a goal back came in the dying embers of the game. In what had been such a focused defensive performance, a single lapse in concentration lead to a close-range chance for LAFC’s Joshua Perez. Coming up big once again, Vito Mannone collapsed on the young forward and sent his effort just off target. Making eight saves on the night, the referee’s whistle brought proceedings to an end with an improbable Minnesotan victory and an emphatic clean sheet for Mannone and his defense.
“I'm just so pleased for the group because this group was so disappointed after losing the Final to Atlanta on Tuesday night,” said Heath. “For them to pick themselves up and put that type of performance up on the road against the MLS league leaders, who haven't been beaten at home all season, speaks volumes about the character of the group.”
Minnesota United’s next game is an international friendly at Allianz Field against C.F. Pachuca on Saturday, September 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CT. The game will be streamed directly on mnufc.com or you can follow along with timely match updates by following @MNUFCMatch on Twitter.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Brent Kallman, Wilfried Moimbe-Tahrat; M Hassani Dotson, Lawrence Olum, Jan Gregus; F Darwin Quintero (Kevin Molino 49’), Mason Toye (Abu Danladi 90+2’)
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; M Ethan Finlay, Miguel Ibarra, Thomas Chacon; F Angelo Rodriguez
Los Angeles Football Club Starting XI: GK Pablo Sisniega; D Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey (Mohamed El-Munir HT), Tristan Blackmon (Josh Perez 70’), Walker Zimmerman; M Eduar Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Lee Nguyen; F Adama Diomande, Brian Rodriguez (Mark-Anthony Kaye HT), Diego Rossi
LAFC Unused Subs: GK Tyler Miller; D Danilo Silva, Steven Beitashour; F Adrien Perez
25’ – Toye (Gregus) – MIN
29’ – Toye – MIN
90+3’ – Blessing (YC) – LAFC