After a lengthy delay thanks to thunderstorms rumbling through the area, Minnesota United faced Orlando City SC in the penultimate game of the MLS Is Back Tournament to see who would get the chance to face Portland Timbers in the Final on Tuesday. While the Loons came out strong and looked dangerous most of the night, it only took two beautiful moves from Nani — a feathery first touch on a long ball and a wicked curve on a shot from distance — to end Minnesota United’s strong run through the MLS Is Back Tournament. Although Mason Toye would pull the Loons within one late, a stoppage time goal on the counterattack guaranteed Orlando’s 3-1 victory.
© Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota United began the game much as they did against San Jose, pressing high and keeping the opponent from getting comfortable with the ball. Within the first minute, a deflection off a cross by defender Hassani Dotson earned the Loons their first corner kick of the evening, setting the tone for the early going.
While the right side connection between Dotson and midfielder Ethan Finlay did much of the damage against the Quakes, this game saw a bit more bite from the left side. In the 12th minute, defender Chase Gasper got far enough up to send in a cross that turned into an effort on goal that goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had to tip over the crossbar.
Chase almost tore the roof off this place... so to speak pic.twitter.com/a2dEifDcrw— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) August 7, 2020
But in the 15th minute, Orlando showed they were up to the challenge of breaking Minnesota’s press. Defender Ruan and his world-class speed presented a problem for Gasper from the first whistle, and here, Ruan got around the edge and sent in a hard, low cross towards the feet of forward Tesho Akindele. Akindele’s effort, though, went high as defender Jose Aja applied pressure from behind.
From there, Orlando seemed to build in confidence as they struck adventurous long diagonals and redoubled their efforts after losing possession and finding ways to get into space. It paid off for them in the 36th minute as midfielder Nani put a lovely first touch on a bomb of a pass from defender Robin Jansson down the left wing. It got him around Dotson and opened up a window for tremendous shot that put the Lions up 1-0.
Nani’s first touch on his first goal was bettered only moment later by the curl on a right-footed effort from the winger near the edge of the box that painted the far goalpost and doubled Orlando’s lead to 2-0. Minnesota’s initial burst of energy and aggression had flagged and they headed into the locker room with much work to be done.
Not content to let the chip fall where they may, Head Coach Adrian Heath went to his bench early, bringing in Aaron Schoenfeld, Mason Toye and Kevin Molino in the 58th minute for Luis Amarilla, Jacori Hayes and Robin Lod. It gave the team a two-striker look that immediately looked more threatening and ultimately paid dividends in the 82nd minute when Mason Toye stuck on his defender’s back shoulder before cutting ahead and finishing a long pass from Molino to cut the deficit in half.
Down a goal at 2-1, the Loons began to throw everything forward, with defenders Michael Boxall and Jose Aja making deep forays into the attacking third. A few times, the attack got decent looks at the ball, including a floating through ball that Boxall nearly banged home with a header and a chance for Dotson to drive home another banger on the right side as he turned and fired, but MNUFC struggled to find the back of the net.
In stoppage time, MNUFC continued to put the pressure on, but it ultimately resulted in an open chance for Benji Michel going the other way and, isolated against Miller, Michel got out wide and put home the insurance goal to make it 3-1 and send the Lions through to the Final against Portland Timbers.
ADRIAN HEATH ON NANI'S GOALS
“His second goal was a quality goal. From a quality player. The first one, we should have done a lot more with it. It’s a 75-yard ball and we shouldn’t be getting done with one ball. But, there was not a lot in the game. I don’t know how many corners we’ve had, how many free kicks we’ve had. And, perhaps the little bit of quality that we have had in the last few games was missing tonight. I don’t think we had enough quality in the final third. Because, we started the game really well, the first 15, 20 minutes, and then they came into it. But, overall, I’m really pleased with the players. Proud of the players. What they’ve done over the last five weeks in a really difficult situation for the players and the staff and everybody who has been down here. Our players have handled themselves admirably I think. There’s a lot of positives to come from the tournament.”
MICHAEL BOXALL ON THE PATH FORWARD
“Pushing on for those home playoffs spots. Everyone who finished with this team last year has a still huge amount of disappointment in the way we didn’t win that home playoff game last year. It’s doing the same again. Securing a home playoff game, once again being a team that other teams do not want to play in the playoffs and then taking that extra step and making a deep playoff run. That’s our expectations. We’ve got a group that’s more than capable of that.”
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
Chase is our man tonight... pic.twitter.com/F18h480ChS— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) August 7, 2020
- 36' | Nani lays a lovely touch on a long ball out of the back and goes around the defense before spearing a shot in on the far post. 1-0
- 43' | Nani gets the ball onto his right foot and just paints the edge of the far post with a curled ball. Little you can do about that. 2-0
- 82' | The Loons get one back courtesy of Mason Toye, who scooted ahead of the defense and took the pass from Molino before sending it into the back of the net. 2-1
- 96' | With Minnesota throwing everything forward, Orlando takes advantage on the break and Benji Michel gives the Lions an insurance goal to close out the game. 3-1