Image: Minnesota United
A normal 25-minute drive from Cottage Grove to Allianz Field took almost 45 minutes on Saturday, as the roads around the Twin Cities were snow-covered and slick.
However, the frustration with the commute turned to admiration of the snow globe that was Allianz Field. The normally green grass was completely white. snowfall reflected in all of the overhead lights, and the stage was set for the third “Snowpener” in Minnesota United’s MLS history.
Considering the conditions, the match was anticipated to be sloppy without many chances. We got the slop, but we also got plenty of opportunities in both directions.
Ultimately, a deserved 1-1 draw was the result of a match that saw 26 total shots.
“Obviously, these conditions didn’t help both teams,” said Adrian Heath. “I felt as though the game was going to be won or lost by the team that made the least mistakes in their own half.”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was the motto of the day for Heath and Minnesota United. The club opted for the same “4-2-3-1 that’s really a 4-3-3” they deployed in the opener against FC Dallas, with both Wil Trapp and Bongokuhle Hlongwane overcoming a rib and hamstring issue, respectively, to enter the starting lineup.
Following an impressive Loons debut, veteran Zarek Valentin found himself at right back once again, with D.J. Taylor available off the bench.
Up top, Heath stayed true to his traditional “hot hand” (or “hot foot”, in this case) philosophy, giving Mender Garcia the starting nod over incumbent Luis Amarilla.
Robin Lod’s start in central midfield made 100 total MNUFC appearances for the Finn.
Minnesota nearly found themselves behind within the first minute, as Micky Tapias got caught pressing a bit too high at the back, leaving a great chance for Red Bulls’ Lewis Morgan, who put the first shot of the match just wide of the post.
We started to get shades of last season’s matchup between the Loons and Red Bulls, and Morgan was sprung free once again in the third minute, this time on the right side. The No. 10 beat St. Clair to the ball, but Morgan’s chip begged wide.
All in all, New York owned the opening stanza of this one, accumulating four shots in the first seven minutes.
Luckily, MNUFC were able to whether the storm, stick to their press, and start to turn the tide.
That tide did a full 180 in the 18th minute, as Fragapane stepped up for Minnesota’s first corner of the season. The Argentine’s cross was put on a plate for Tapias, who’s header found the palms of Carlos Coronel, but the Red Bulls’ keeper could only paw the ball in the direction of Hlongwane, who tucked away the rebound to warm up the Allianz Field crowd and get the home-side out in front.
“It means a lot to me,” said Hlongwane. “I feel happy because I was able to score in front of the Loons fans on our first game of the season at home.”
It should be noted, Heath seemed extremely confident this week in Fragapane’s ability to take corners in Emanuel Reynoso’s absence, and “Fraga” delivered big time.
“We worked on it a couple of days,” said Heath. “That near-post area, we thought it was a little bit vulnerable. It was a good ball in, obviously Micky got on it. It was a good goal, and at the end of the day it was a good set-piece.”
Kevin Egan, on commentary, noted Hlongwane’s goal was the 100th regular season goal scored at Allianz Field, but a fact-check with Loons’ PR staff discovered a count of 97.
The visitors began the 2nd half with some set-piece magic of their own, as John Tolkin’s corner finds the head of Andres Reyes, and the center back doesn’t miss from point-blank range to equalize in the 49th minute. The goal was the Red Bulls’ first of the season.
“I thought it was a poor goal for us, a poor goal to concede,” said Heath. “[Reyes] is one of their biggest guys on the field and gets a free header in the six-yard box.”
Morgan continued his menacing ways less than 10 minutes later, once again getting in on goal with St. Clair, thanks to a Tapias slip on the snowy pitch. Fortunately, the Loons’ goalkeeper stepped up big to deny the 1-on-1 chance and keep the match level.
“[Morgan] is a good player,” said Heath. “He’s smart, and he’s always on for the second ball.”:
Much like he did in Dallas, Heath called upon Hassani Dotson just past the hour mark, replacing Wil Trapp. This time, the utility man was joined by striker Luis Amarilla, who entered for Garcia.
Those two subs seemed to inject some life into MNUFC, as the hosts began to put some serious pressure on New York’s backline around the 70th minute. A handful of opportunities from free kicks, throws, and corners eventually resulted in a near-banger from Dotson, but the effort missed the goal by inches.
“As the conditions got better and as there was less snow on the field, we suddenly then started to get a little bit more possession in their half of the field,” said Heath.
2022 SuperDraft pick Tani Oluwaseyi made his second appearance in as many matches for Minnesota, replacing Fragapane in the 80th minute and almost immediately finding himself in a goal-scoring opportunity, but wasn’t able to find his footing and sent the effort well wide.
Something important to note has been the re-emergence of Kervin Arriaga over these first two matches. The Hondurian was hampered by injury most of last season, with Heath mentioning he would sit out training most weeks to rehab and get himself ready for matchday. Now, you can see what the midfielder is capable of at 100%.
On the night, Arriaga won five out of eight ground duals and six of nine areal duals. In short, he was a beast for the Loons, and once again their best player on the night according to FotMob.
“Before the season started, would we settle for four points [in the first two matches]? Probably,” said Heath. “So, it’s been a good start.”
No more bye weeks in the distant future for Minnesota, as they go back on the road next Saturday vs. Colorado before returning back to Allianz Field for a matchup against Vancouver Whitecaps March 25th.