Facing its first four-game losing streak to start the season in MLS history, Minnesota United came into this midweek matchup with Vancouver Whitecaps FC needing a win badly to get things on the right track. Coming out in a 4-3-3, MNUFC persevered through some early jitters and uneven play in the first half before settling down in the second and snatching a 1-0 win on the strength of Ramon Abila's first MLS goal in the 72nd minute.
Minnesota United began the game with a bit of nerves, taking the pole position early in terms of possession but also committing some early fouls and opening themselves up in the fifth minute as a wayward pass back from Chase Gasper found itself in front of an unmarked Cristian Dajome in the box, but the Vancouver forward sent the ball over the crossbar.
Over the game’s first half-hour, goalkeeper Tyler Miller — playing his first game at Allianz Field since joining the team before the 2020 season — was called upon to make some quick reaction saves and he stood tall. On the other end of the pitch, the Loons seemed reluctant to push down the wings and send in crosses as they had in previous games, instead intent on working the ball into the middle of the pitch for midfielder Emanuel Reynoso to dictate possession.
The Argentine found pockets of space between Vancouver’s midfield and backline, dancing through the box and occasionally testing from distance, although none found the net. His attacking partners Robin Lod and Hassani Dotson switched around freely on the field and made as much of an impact defensively as in attack, harassing the opposition whenever they were dispossessed.
Still, over the final 15 minutes of the first half, the game tilted towards Vancouver. The Whitecaps have scored all five of their goals from dead ball situations — three set pieces and two penalties — and it was evident how comfortable they are in those situations. On corner kicks, the Whitecaps put a lot of big bodies forward but couldn’t eke out a goal from any of them and the two teams headed into the locker room in a scoreless draw.
The Loons began the second half strong, getting an opportunity almost immediately off the restart in the 47th minute when Lod sent in a cross from the right wing for Reynoso, who fired it one-time but had his shot blocked by goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. In the 53rd minute, Lod got his own chance as defender Romain Metanire deftly controlled a long ball before sending it in for the Finn, who missed it just wide.
After playing in a 4-3-3 through the first half and first part of the second as they did against Colorado, Head Coach Adrian Heath went to his bench in the 65th minute looking for something different. He brought in forward Ramon Abila for midfielder Jan Gregus, shifting the formation to a 4-2-3-1 with Abila up top and Wil Trapp and Osvaldo Alonso as the double pivot. The forward’s impact on the game was immediate, as he trucked up the field with the ball in the 68th minute before laying it off for Lod and diving into the box where he nearly knocked down a high cross with an equally high kick.
Moments after defenders Michael Boxall and Jukka Raitala tracked down Lucas Cavallini to stymie a counterattack, it was the Loons’ turn to get going downhill. Playing on the right wing, Lod pushed along the edge of the box before cutting it back to his favored left foot. He sent in a curling cross and Abila rose up and struck the header into the bottom left corner of the goal for his first MLS and MNUFC goal. He celebrated by lifting his jersey and revealing a shirt honoring his brother Gaston, who committed suicide last year.
Vancouver adjusted with subs and worked to make a push for the equalizer, but Minnesota were clearly prepared to slow it down and keep the lead, from killing off possessions in the corners to taking some professional time on restarts. In the end, Minnesota outlasted the visitors and came away with their first win and points of the year in a 1-0 victory.
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH
- 72' | Robin Lod cuts it back to his left foot on the right wing and sends in a curling cross that finds Ramon Abila for a header. 1-0
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. FC DALLAS
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
05.15.2021 | MLS Week No. 5 | MLS Game No. 6
7:00 p.m. CT (The CW Twin Cities, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)