After two years of trying to convince themselves that playing spoiler was enough motivation on Decision Day, Minnesota United at last found themselves going into the final game of the regular season with something at stake. Win, and the Loons would secure the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs and the first-ever home game in their first-ever playoffs at Allianz Field. Lose, and MNUFC would be at the mercy of results from LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake to see if they would be hitting the road for Round One. After 90 back-and-forth minutes between the two teams, Minnesota United would not be able to answer Seattle’s opening goal and will head home on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss but with a home playoff game at Allianz Field to look forward to.
"I was a bit disappointed," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "I don’t think we did ourselves justice enough today considering what was at stake for us. But, I have to look at the body of work that we’ve done over a 10-month period. As I said before, I don’t think or I didn’t read anybody saying that we would make the playoffs. For us to be where we are, to get a home field game in the playoffs, we’ll take a lot of satisfaction from that. At this moment, my overriding feeling is more of disappointment about today.”
Sounders FC came out of the gate looking to start on the front foot and early on, forward Jordan Morris wreaked havoc down the left wing. In the sixth minute, Morris caromed down the side of the pitch, putting pressure on Minnesota’s defense and forcing Seattle’s first corner kick of the game. Two minutes later, Morris got his head on a cross from the right wing but send it over the bar. His marauding runs were a major headache for the Loons in the first half.
But by the 10th minute, Minnesota began to settle into the game and started to show some patience in possession when in Seattle’s half. The Loons worked the ball around from right to left and then back again without finding an opportunity before setting up again and getting their first corner kick in the 11th minute after midfielder Ethan Finlay’s cross was deflected over the byline by a Sounders defender.
In the 15th minute, midfielder Darwin Quintero — playing out wide on the left in the 4-3-3 formation but often floating centrally — picked out forward Angelo Rodriguez in the middle and put a ball through at his feet. Rodriguez went down near the edge of the box but couldn’t get the call.
On the other end, Minnesota’s defense had to withstand an energetic Seattle attack. In the 25th minute, midfielder Osvaldo Alonso — making his first return to CenturyLink since joining Minnesota prior to the season — managed to block a shot from forward Raul Ruidiaz after Ruidiaz wriggled his way free on the left side of the box.
The tenor of the game changed markedly in the 25th minute when Seattle opened the scoring. A corner kick from midfielder Nico Lodeiro sailed over the box and bounced out to defender Joevin Jones. Jones sent it back across the box and picked out defender Roman Torres on the far post. Torres nodded it past goalkeeper Vito Mannone to make it 1-0 in favor of the home side.
For the next 15 minutes, Seattle dominated the ball and got the better of the chances, but midfielder Ethan Finlay nearly squared the game in the 40th minute. He challenged a Sounders defender for a long aerial pass and got the better of it, settling the ball and finding himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the box. He beat the keeper to his left but the ball ricocheted off the far post, leaving the Loons frustrated. The teams headed into the locker room with Seattle a goal up.
"We’ve huffed and puffed a lot tonight," said Heath. "I don’t think we had enough quality in their half of the field because we had enough of the ball in the middle third of the field but we just didn’t have enough quality in the final third. I don’t think we created enough for the amount of the ball that we had.”
The second half began much as the first half ended, with neither team giving quarter as each pushed forward with urgency — Seattle attempting to put the game away with a second goal and Minnesota aiming to level the score and get back into it. Twenty minutes in, the energy expended by the Loons pushing forward flagged and they found themselves pushed back into their own half and forced to defend a plethora of corner kicks.
In response, Heath looked to get fresh legs on the pitch and change the look of the team, putting in midfielder Kevin Molino for Jan Gregus and forward Mason Toye for Quintero. The substitutions shifted the visitors to a 4-4-2 and the effect was noticeable. With two targets up top in Toye and Rodriguez, long balls looked more dangerous and the group in midfield proved a bit tougher to break down. Gradually the Sounders pulled their foot off the accelerator and sat back more to absorb pressure.
Down the stretch, Minnesota United threw everything it had at Seattle’s goal, including bringing up Mannone for a late corner kick by Molino that sailed safely into the waiting arms of Frei. The win all but secured, Frei resisted the temptation to launch a quick counterattack and instead held onto the ball to drain the clock.
"I thought they probably would’ve felt hard done to if they hadn’t won the game," said Heath. "They had a lot of possession and I don’t think that we did enough with our possession certainly in their final third – not enough quality. We didn’t create as much as I’d like. You look at the second sort of, 35 minutes of the game. The second half has been virtually played in their half of the field. When you have that much possession and that many bodies forward, for us to not really create an awful lot was disappointing.”
In the end, the Loons would go home empty-handed on the day, but secure in the knowledge that Houston’s win over the Galaxy would give them a home playoff game in a few weeks against that same LA Galaxy team.
When Allianz Field hosts Minnesota United’s first-ever playoff game, season ticket members will be guaranteed their season seats, so long as they did not opt out earlier. For everyone else, the best path to getting tickets right now is to join The Preserve, the official waiting list for season tickets at Allianz Field, or by signing up for our newsletters. Both those groups will get access to presales before tickets go on sale to the general public. Visit mnufc.com/preserve for more info on the former and mnufc.com/newsletter for more info on the latter.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus (Kevin Molino 70’), Hassani Dotson, Ethan Finlay (Robin Lod 83’), Darwin Quintero (Mason Toye 71’); F Angelo Rodriguez
MIN Unused Subs: GK Dayne St. Clair; D Wilfried Moimbe-Tahrat; M Lawrence Olum, Miguel Ibarra
Seattle Sounders FC Starting XI: GK Stefan Frei; D Brad Smith, Kelvin Leerdam, Kim Kee-hee, Roman Torres; M Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, Joevin Jones (Jordy Delem 79’), Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro (Saad Abdul-Salaam 88’); F Raul Ruidiaz (Luis Silva 90’)
SEA Unused Subs: GK Bryan Meredith; M Alex Roldan, Emanuel Cecchini, Harry Shipp
29’ – Torres (Jones) – SEA
23’ – Opara (YC) – MIN