A late kick could not stop the Florida heat and humidity from turning this tilt between the top two teams in Group D into another steamy affair late Friday night. Minnesota United welcomed the return of captain Osvaldo Alonso to the lineup, while Real Salt Lake would lose Albert Rusnak to an injury after just 34 minutes. The teams would spend the bulk of the evening in the midfield, with neither able to mount consistent pressure on goal and each mustering 10 shots a piece with only five total on target. A late shift towards MNUFC was not enough for the Loons to come out on top and the teams would have to satisfy themselves with a point each in a scoreless draw.
© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Few real chances materialized over the course of the first 45 on the night. While Real Salt Lake won the possession battle of the first half handily, 55.8% to 44.2%, MNUFC seemed more focused on the counterattack, content to let RSL pass the ball square and back until jumping on them as they tried to push forward.
The first half was also plagued by stoppages as players hit the ground in midfield with regularity, including RSL’s Albert Rusnak who was forced from the game in the 34th minute after picking up a hip flexor injury. The Claret-and-Cobalt also earned two yellow cards for rough challenges on midfielders Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay.
As the six minutes of stoppage time dwindled, Minnesota United teed up the best chance of the first half. Forward Aaron Schoenfeld held the ball up at midfield before dropping it off to midfielder Osvaldo Alonso — back in the starting XI for this game — who pushed unmarked deep into RSL’s half on the left side. He drew enough attention to get midfielder Robin Lod loose from the defense. Lod ripped a shot from the box that rattled the frame before bouncing wide to the right, where Finlay laid out and tried to nod the ball back towards goal, only to be frustrated by goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The whistle was blown and the two teams headed into the tunnel level at 0-0.
Likely with an eye towards preserving Molino for the final game of the Group Stage after a short turnaround from last Sunday’s game, Head Coach Adrian Heath opted to put in Thomas Chacon for Molino. This shifted midfielder Robin Lod centrally while Chacon moved out to the left wing. Lod looked more comfortable in the #10 position, immediately taking the opportunity to make a deep run into the box and rip a shot that forced a good save from MacMath.
Slowly, MNUFC began to tilt the tables in its direction. Heath was not shy with his subs on the night, bringing in Hassani Dotson for Ethan Finlay and Luis Amarilla for Aaron Schoenfeld in the 65th minute, and then Raheem Edwards for Lod in the 81st. But while the Loons manage to stay on the front foot for the rest of the game, allowing RSL opportunities almost exclusively on the counterattack, they could not find the finishing quality they needed to get the first goal and open things up. Ultimately, the teams would have to settle for splitting the points and ending up with four points and a somewhat tighter hold on the top two spots in Group D.
ADRIAN HEATH ON THE DIFFERENCE ALONSO MAKES
"We had a game the other night without Ike Opara – two-time Defender of the Year – Ozzie [Alonso] has arguably been the best number six in this division for 10 years. And you can see that common influence this evening. The amount of times he pinches balls that are meant to go into strikers, then he composes the game. He’s a huge piece for us and I think it showed again tonight. It didn’t surprise me that we controlled more of the possession because we’ve got somebody who is outstanding at doing that."
TYLER MILLER ON THE TEAM AT THIS STAGE OF THE TOURNAMENT
“We have a really motivated and strong group. I think you see it through the collective effort that everyone puts in for the full 90 minutes, plus stoppage time every game, starting with the [Kansas City] game. I mean we never really gave up, we didn’t play well but we fought until the end and got that huge result. Tonight, I mean, it was a similar feeling that everyone was willing to go that extra mile for everyone. So for us I feel like we have a strong, motivated team and now it just comes down to being disciplined and following our game plan when it comes to each game.”
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. MINNESOTA UNITED
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex | Orlando, Florida
07.22.2020 | MLS Is Back Tournament | Group Stage Game No. 3
9:30 p.m. CT (ESPN, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)