Minnesota United FC’s 2022 MLS campaign came to an end Monday evening at Toyota Stadium, where the Loons drew FC Dallas 1-1 but fell in penalty kicks 5-4.
Argentine winger Alan Velasco’s fifth penalty was a cheeky panenka attempt that sent MNUFC goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair the wrong way, seeing the home side advance to the second round of the postseason. It was a valiant effort from the Loons, who came into the contest as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and were inches away from knocking out the No. 3 seeded FC Dallas.
“I thought the players, massive shift tonight. I couldn’t fault them with an aspect of what we asked of them. They were unbelievable. The shape, the discipline and football’s a cruel game at times. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve,” Head coach Adrian Heath said. “Considering the work that the players have put in, I look across the group, I couldn’t ask much more from any of them this evening. Disappointed for them, disappointed for our supporters who were here. Incredible that they made the journey. It’s always a cruel way of going out. We’ve all been on the good side, we’ve all been on the bad side. It’s still never easy to take.”
Over the course of 90 minutes of regulation, the two Western Conference sides battled it out and eventually each side found the back of the net in the second-half of action.
Loons talisman Emanuel Reynoso found the back of the net eight minutes into the final 45 minutes. Forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane dribbled the ball across the top of the box and found the Argentine near him, who drilled the ball into the lower-left corner of the net from the top of the 18-yard-box.
FC Dallas midfielder Facundo Quignon leveled the match just 11 minutes later, finding the back of the net off a corner kick. The Argentine leapt in the air, unmarked, and headed the ball home.
As a result, 120 minutes of soccer was played as the two sides ended regulation in a stalemate and then failed to find the back of the net in the 30 minutes of Extra Time.
In the ensuing penalty shootout, FC Dallas went five-for-five in kicks from the spot while the Loons only scored four of their five; Midfielder Wil Trapp had his kick saved by goalkeeper Maarten Paes.
“It’s disappointing. Any time you lose in penalties, it’s just tough to swallow because we had a lot of good moments in the game. I thought we played well, we worked so hard in the game and the guys deserved more. But, that’s what it boils down to; that’s just the way the penalty shootouts can go. So, unfortunately, I was the one that didn’t convert,” Trapp said postgame.
Trapp’s effort in the contest did not go unnoticed, as the Loons lone goal on the evening came courtesy of him setting up Hlongwane with a lovely cross across the pitch. The midfielder and captain of the team had his penalty saved, but his performance during the 120+ minutes of action was crucial to get to that point. Despite the secondary assist, that one moment defined the outcome of the contest.
“It’s one of those where half the time it’s a crap shoot, maybe you try to change the last second if he [goalkeeper] dives the right way. But I found that if you’re trying to change things, it gets messed up even more so. So, you just kind of have to try and trust what you’re doing and pick a spot and go for it and the goalkeeper guesses right and makes a good save.”
An eventful campaign for the Loons, that saw them lose three players to season-ending injuries, bow-out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in stunning fashion, qualify for the playoffs on the final day of the season and then suffer a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss in the first-round is now over. The entire campaign led to Monday night’s match and for all persons involved, it’s not just over. It hasn’t sunk in for the squad, or Trapp, yet.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in at all. It’s disappointing, I’ll say it again. We wanted more, we didn’t get more. Now we have to wait for next year. It’s crazy: You play for eight, nine months and you have one game, 120 minutes in this case and penalties, and it doesn’t go your way and that’s football,” Trapp said. “I think for us, there were some good moments and some inconsistent moments and I think for us it’s understanding – like I talked to you guys about this week – what did we do in those good moments, what should we draw back on and try to sustain to take into next year, which will allow us to be a team that’s challenging for the trophies and the things we want. We have the quality, it’s just about consistency of energy.”
It was genuinely a heartbreak ending for the Loons, who now have to wait until February of 2023 to play a competitive match as a squad again. Manager Adrian Heath offered insight into what the offseason will look like, and it sounds like changes to his XI will be coming.
“We’ll have to assess it all over the next weeks and the coming weeks. See what’s been good. See what changes we think we need to make. That’s the way the game is. People will stay, people will go, new people will come in because that’s the nature of the game and that’s the nature of MLS with the salary cap,” Heath said. “We’ve got some really big and tough decisions to make over a lot of players in the next few weeks.”
With the offseason now here, there are multiple contracts expiring and decisions now have to be made across the board. 15 contracts are set to expire, with club options only available on a few players. Notable names, such as Wil Trapp, Tyler Miller, Romain Metanire, DJ Taylor and Jacori Hayes are all out of contract. SotaSoccer.com will keep you updated on the movement of these contracts as the year comes to an end.