Minnesota United came into an early afternoon game against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park with a chance to clinch a spot in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in the club’s MLS history. Although less mathematically impactful, the game was was no less significant for a Timbers squad that has struggled to score at home recently. While both teams generated good chances with both relying heavily on the counterattack, neither team could ultimately pull away in a 0-0 result with the Loons happy to come away with a point and climb back up to third in the Western Conference with three games remaining.
“I thought we rode our luck at times,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We turned the ball over too cheaply at times and then, on the reverse side, I thought that if we would have played with the quality that I know we possess, we could’ve won the game because we had too many really good opportunities and [we] didn’t really come back with the final ball or the really decisive pass. It’s a difficult place to come and I thought Vito [Mannone] was excellent. Overall, satisfied with a point.”
In the game’s opening minutes, Minnesota displayed a solid defensive gameplan, pressing high without throwing too much forward and thus forcing Portland’s centerbacks to make decisions with the ball under pressure. Offensively, though, MNUFC struggled a bit to break the lines just past midfield, with Portland consistently dispossessing the Loons as they worked the ball into the attacking half. Nevertheless, 10 minutes in, midfielder Darwin Quintero sent a curling pass from right to left and found forward Mason Toye who got a head on it but sent it just high. Throughout the afternoon, Quintero and fellow midfielder Kevin Molino would find chances to send in early diagonal balls that wanted only a clean finish.
In the 18th minute, defender Romain Metanire tapped a lobbed cross into the box from the right wing, finding Robin Lod near the edge of the box. The Finland international couldn’t quite shape his body around the ball and ended up making only glancing contact on a ball that goalkeeper Steve Clark saved easily. In the next minute, it was midfielder Jan Gregus’ turn to try from distance as he fired a rocket along the ground after a cross from defender Chase Gasper was rebuffed in front of goal. The ball went just wide right, but the pressure from Minnesota was definitely building.
In the 21st minute, Portland midfielder Andrés Flores had to leave the game after his right eye puffed up following an errant foot from Quintero back in the 15th minute. Cristhian Paredes came on for him and Portland began to wrest a bit of control as they worked to spring the counter off of Minnesota’s offensive success. Fortunately for the visitors, Vito Mannone was on his game at the other end, spearing away shot after shot and ultimately ending up with 12 saves — a new club single game record.
“I think he saved the ones [that] he should’ve saved but we needed him,” said Heath. “At times, I thought his ball handling was exceptional because it was a little bit greasy out there today. He was very, very good for us in big moments. When you go on the road at places like this, you know your goalkeeper is always going to have to play well and I thought he did.”
Down the stretch of the first half, the teams began exchanging body blows with neither able to land the knockout punch. For every attack launched by Minnesota, the home side had a response in defense and an attack of its own. For its part, Minnesota’s defense appeared to flex a bit more forward as it looked for a breakthrough, leading to a few more opportunities for a Portland side that ultimately outpossessed it 57% to 43% and rang up 14 shots to the visitors’ 9. The Timbers would go into the locker room cursing their lucks as Sebastian Blanco — who looked threatening throughout the first half — banged a beautiful curling shot from just beyond the box onto the woodwork in the final minute of stoppage time.
During halftime, Minnesota opted to pull centerback Ike Opara, who appeared to be carrying a knock from early on in the game for much of the opening 45. In his stead came midfielder Lawrence Olum, who managed to thoroughly impress in an ad hoc role, given that centerback Brent Kallman is serving a suspension currently.
In the 62nd minute, it was Portland’s turn to praise the gods of lumber as a free kick from Jan Gregus deep on the right wing found the head of Robin Lod. Lod’s header flew true but just struck the top of the goal and bounced harmlessly away. That chance, though, set off Minnesota’s best string of attack over the next eight minutes or so, a stretch that saw them get several looks directly in front of goal off of diagonal through balls.
Yet again in the 70th minute, Minnesota was saved by the post when Paredes’ headed effort ricocheted off the right post and back into the field of play, with Mannone eking out a save on the second chance. In the 76th minute, Heath brought on Ethan Finlay for Robin Lod, perhaps hoping for a spark with a player who could make runs in behind the defense. Five minutes later, though, Heath would make a concession towards defense as he removed Quintero for midfielder Hassani Dotson in a bid to secure the point on the road.
Molino almost had something else in mind in the third minute of stoppage time as a long goal kick by Mannone was misplayed by midfielder Diego Chara. The ball dropped at Molino’s feet and he had an open path to goal, but Clark stood tall and denied the midfielder in his chance to put the Loons firmly into the playoffs. A point on the road, though, is no mean feat and Minnesota would gladly take it as they look ahead to Wednesday’s game back at Allianz Field against Sporting Kansas City for their next opportunity to clinch. That game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. and is presented by Taylor Communications. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
“We’ve got Kansas at home on Wednesday and then we’re at home again next Sunday against LAFC,” said Heath. “Not going to be easy but we would’ve certainly taken this situation before the season started. Our aim was to make the playoffs and now we’re getting a bit greedy. We want a home field advantage. It’s in our own hands now to come up with another big performance on Wednesday.”
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Ike Opara (Lawrence Olum HT), Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso, Kevin Molino, Robin Lod (Ethan Finlay 76’), Darwin Quintero (Hassani Dotson 80’); F Mason Toye
MIN Unused Sub: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Wyatt Omsberg; M Miguel Ibarra; F Abu Danladi
Portland Timbers Starting XI: GK Steve Clark; D Claude Dielna, Jorge Moreira (Bill Tuiloma 88’), Larrys Mabiala, Zarek Valentin; M Andres Flores (Cristhian Paredes 21’), Polo, Diego Chara, Jeremy Ebobisse, Sebastian Blanco; F Brian Fernandez (Diego Valeri 60’)
POR Unused Subs: GK Kendall McIntosh; D Jorge Villafana; F Marvin Loria, Tomas Conechny
78’ – Valentin (YC) – POR