Minnesota United came into Wednesday’s match controlling their own destiny in the Group Stage. Colorado had little to play for, having already been eliminated from the MLS Is Back Tournament by Sporting KC’s win over Real Salt Lake earlier in the day. But with regular season results on the line and a long history of close games and animosity between the sides, there was every reason to believe Minnesota’s final game of the Group Stage would be a feisty affair and the teams delivered.
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With Kevin Molino unavailable after picking up a knock against Real Salt Lake, Head Coach Adrian Heath rejiggered his formation and the Loons came out in a 4-3-3. This split midfield playmaking duties between Hassani Dotson and Jan Gregus ahead of holding mid Osvaldo Alonso. The formation at first made it difficult for Colorado to play through the middle and it initially led to strong spells of possession for MNUFC.
Unfortunately, the Loons also struggled to get creative in the final third, perhaps missing Molino’s playmaking and penchant for dropping back to connect the midfield to the attackers. The Rapids quickly made the decision to keep it simple and play direct ball over the top in order to bypass Minnesota’s thorny midfield. In the 19th minute, Diego Rubio forced a turnover by Alonso, opening up a wide open counterattack. Forward Kei Kamara floated out to the right and received the ball in space and isolated with goalkeeper Tyler Miller. The well-traveled forward calmly slipped the ball past Miller to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.
Minnesota responded well, though, growing into the game and finding space down the wings by playing through defender Romain Metanire on the right side. The pressure exerted on that flank eventually began to open up the opposite side, and in the 36th minute, a Gregus free kick from a foul on Dotson on the left brought the Loons back. Gregus curled the ball around the two-man wall set up by Colorado and midfielder Ethan Finlay stepped out just far enough to flick the ball on with a toe tap and make it 1-1.
In the 43rd minute, it was once again Gregus curling a beautiful pass, this time in the run of play, out to Metanire on the right wing. Metanire cut the ball down the touchline and into the box, centering it to a waiting Finlay who converted the difficult chance to complete his brace and put the Loons on top 2-1.
Ten minutes into a second half that looked much the same, Colorado Head Coach Robin Fraser made the decision to bring in Jonathan Lewis and Nicolas Mezquida for Nicolas Benezet and Collen Warner, respectively, and instantly changed the complexion of the game.
In the 59th minute, a Colorado free kick was cleared to the edge of the box only for Lewis to round on it and drill the half volley into the net just inside the near post. The goal was Lewis’ third as a sub in the tournament.
Although Minnesota continued to put together promising bouts of possession down the stretch, it became clear that an injection of energy was needed. Heath brought on Raheem Edwards for Robin Lod and Marlon Hairston for Finlay in the 86th minute and the Loons’ offense sprung to life, garnering several solid chances including a shot from Edwards that narrowly missed his head and instead glanced off his shoulder and out of bounds.
In the end, MNUFC would have to satisfy themselves with a draw and a point, giving them 11 points through the first five games of the regular season. The result also meant the team locked up the D2 spot in the Group Stage, sending them on to face Columbus Crew SC — the tournament’s hottest team — in the Round of 16.
1,2,3— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 23, 2020
it's Romain and ETHAN FINLAY pic.twitter.com/hQvF7T855A
ADRIAN HEATH ON HIS TACTICS
“We changed the shape, didn’t we? We went without a traditional 10 and played with a 6 and two 8’s. I thought they gave us a little bit of stability in there. Obviously, at this moment in time, you’re going to miss the way that Kevin [Molino] has been playing. Any team is going to miss a quality footballer that has been playing really, really well and is very confident. And that’s what Kevin was. We think he’ll be available for Tuesday night. We hope he will be. And then, we’ll have to decide what we do in terms of, do we revert back to our normal shape, or do we stick with what we’ve got, or do we do something different? The one good thing about this group of players that we have, is that we can move it around somewhat, and make a different shape altogether. It might cause a few headaches for Columbus."
ETHAN FINLAY ON FACING COLUMBUS
“Well, I’m going to come out, whoever the opponent is, and give everything I got. But, obviously it’s a former team of mine, I’ve got some former teammates that play on that team, so I won’t need anymore [reason] to get up for that game. You know, it’s been one of the better teams throughout this tournament and, so, to get to a final you know you obviously at some point are going to have to play the best and you know we’re probably going to get one of the better teams in the first round and it’s a great test for us. We’re a club that wants, has, great aspirations and you’re playing a team is, I think, probably is the Supporter’s [Shield] lead right now if I remember correctly, so it’s going to be a great test for us. I’ll be up for it, and I think our guys will be up for it.”
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
Mr. Brace pic.twitter.com/I0AslUtKkO— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 23, 2020
- 19' | A turnover sprung by Diego Rubio leads to a wide open counterattack from the Rapids. Kei Kamara floats out wide right and isolated on Miller, he doesn't miss. Rapids on top, 1-0
- 36' | Jan Gregus curls the ball around the two-man wall and Ethan Finlay flicks the ball in on the near post to level the game. 1-1
- 43' | Finlay with the brace as Metanire makes a deep run down the touchline and cuts it back to Finlay who rounds on the tough finish. 1-2
- 59' | Jonathan Lewis rips a half-volley off the free kick and brings the Rapids level. 2-2
The boys this evening...— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 23, 2020
COLUMBUS CREW SC vs. MINNESOTA UNITED
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex | Orlando, Florida
07.28.2020 | MLS Is Back Tournament| Round of 16
7:00 p.m. CT (ESPN, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)