In a matchup between two undefeated teams, Minnesota United met Columbus Crew SC on a rainy Tuesday evening to determine who would go through the Knockout Stage and face the San Jose Earthquakes in the Quarterfinals of the MLS Is Back Tournament. Playing a defensively disciplined game, the Loons refused to be baited into overcommitting and after scoring early off a corner kick put home by midfielder Robin Lod, sat back and absorbed the Crew’s best attempts time after time. After conceding a late penalty to Columbus, though, the game would go to a shootout, where Minnesota United would come out on top, sending the tournament’s darlings packing and themselves through to the next round.
© Douglas DeFelice | 2020 Jul 28
Although Minnesota came out in nominally the same 4-3-3 the Loons ran out against Colorado to close out the Group Stage, it actually played quite differently. Instead of having midfielders Hassani Dotson and Jan Gregus play as two #8s, Dotson performed more like a false #10, leaving Gregus free to back up midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who formed a stout defensive triangle in front of Minnesota’s box with defenders Jose Aja and Michael Boxall.
The Crew’s go-to strategy has been to use possession to draw teams up the pitch and then force them into mistakes, but the Loons simply weren’t going for it on the night. Minnesota was happy to give Columbus the bulk of possession, ending the night with only 35.3% of the ball. Without the playmaking of the injured Kevin Molino, Minnesota relied heavily on the interplay between defender Romain Metanire and midfielder Ethan Finlay down the right side. For their part, Columbus also funneled most of their efforts down the right side of the field through the early phases of the game.
Minnesota’s dominance on set pieces — even without defender Ike Opara — once again came to the fore. In the 18th minute, MNUFC earned its first corner kick of the night, and while Gregus’ initial cross was headed towards goal by Robin Lod, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell turned it away. Forward Gyasi Zardes attempted to clear it, but only as far as Aja, who tapped it back to Lod with his head and Lod drove the ball hard into the ground and over Tarbell to open the scoring and put MNUFC up 1-0.
Lody Lody pic.twitter.com/uH2ZxqZCYi— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 29, 2020
Although forward Luis Amarilla nearly doubled the lead towards the end of the first half with a chip from near midfield when Tarbell had come way off his line, the Loons 1-0 lead held going into the half. As Minnesota began to settle deeper into its bunker, Columbus continued to probe the defense but had a devilishly hard time digging Alonso out from his spot in Zone 14. Their attempts went begging until the 78th minute, when an ill-timed challenge from Aja on halftime sub Derrick Etienne, Jr collided with the midfielder’s leg, drawing the referee’s whistle as he pointed to the spot.
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller stood up to forward Gyasi Zardes’ initial shot, but the ball bounced out directly in front of goal and Zardes would make no mistake on the second effort as he brought the Crew level at 1-1.
That score would hold through stoppage time and with a spot in the Quarterfinals against San Jose Earthquakes on the line, the teams went to a penalty shootout. The difference ended up being Tyler Miller’s stoning of second-half sub Chris Cadden as the Loons who stepped up to the spot — Alonso, Gregus, Aaron Schoenfeld, Raheem Edwards and Chase Gasper — went a perfect five-for-five to end Columbus’ dazzling run through the MLS Is Back Tournament.
ADRIAN HEATH ON PK SHOOTOUT STRATEGY
"We practice them in training. But, you’re never 100 percent certain at the order because you never know who is going to be on the field. And as I always say, I always want people who are confident to take a penalty. Because, it is a different psyche. I’ve seen the best players in the world miss penalties, because you can’t put into practice when you’ve played 90 minutes the mental fatigue and the physical fatigue. I said to them, whatever you do, be positive, and they were. Really good penalties. I always think that if you take five penalties, we’ve got a goalkeeper that will save at least one. And that’s what he did."
TYLER MILLER ON THE TEAM'S MENTALITY
“I think that we do know that every team out there has their special players, and I think that we know we also have our special players and maybe they’re not as big of ‘names,’ so maybe that’s where we get lost in the mix. But I think that tonight, and constantly, we’ve proved that you don’t need to have special names if you have a strong team. So, I think that our guys are all unique and they bring something different. The whole squad, everyone that comes in. I think Jacori [Hayes] came into the game tonight and did a tremendous job filling in next to Ozzie [Alonso], and he really allowed us to gain some control. So we may not have these huge superstars on our team, but we have a really strong camaraderie, which I think is something that is very, very special and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
no doubt pic.twitter.com/QD6ZaNLQ0E— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 29, 2020
- 18' | Off the corner kick, Robin Lod heads the ball towards goal and his initial strike is rebuffed. But the clearance is short and Aja taps it back to Lod who smashes the ball off the turf and past Andrew Tarbell. 1-0
- 79' | Tyler Miller blocks the first shot from Gyasi Zardes but the ball springs out in front of goal and Zardes doesn't miss on the rebound. 1-1
our crew for this evening...— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 28, 2020
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. MINNESOTA UNITED
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex | Orlando, Florida
08.01.2020 | MLS Is Back Tournament | Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. CT (ESPN2, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)