Image: Minnesota United
It should’ve been a marquee win for Minnesota United. Down seven key players due to international duty, not to mention another key absence still in the periphery, the Loons scored in the first half and nearly held on until the end.
But they didn’t.
In the eighth minute of what was shown to be six given minutes of stoppage time, Simon Becher tucked away an equalizing goal, turning an elated Allianz Field crowd anticipating victory into a frustrated group of fans, raining down boos and leaving with plenty of questions about the amount of added time at the end of the match.
And the fans aren’t the only ones asking those questions.
“The signal board said six minutes,” said Heath. “I’ve just been told it was 7:32 [into stoppage time] when the goal went in. I don’t know.”
Tactically, Adrian Heath opted to divert from his normal 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 in favor of a 4-4-2. Luis Amarilla and Mender Garcia both started up top, with Cameron Dunbar and Franco Fragapane beginning on the right and left wings, respectively. Wil Trapp and Hassani Dotson filled in centrally, with a left-to-right backline of DJ Taylor, Miguel Tapias, Brent Kallman, and Zarek Valentin. Clint Irwin received his first MNUFC start in goal.
Much like the home opener against New York, MNUFC started this one on the back foot once again and nearly conceded in the first minute, as Zarek Valentin gave the ball up in the defensive third, and Brian White put a shot off the crossbar.
Five minutes later, it was Hassani Dotson with the giveaway, leading to a short counter from Vancouver. Julian Gressel, unmarked on the far side of the box, volleyed a nice cross goalward, but Irwin denied his effort.
“We need to start better,” said Valentin. “That’s been a common theme throughout the course of the season. I think maybe if that’s just being as direct as possible, putting them under pressure, and relieving our back six, we can look at that. But, that’s something that we should easily be able to control.”
The pendulum began to swing the Loons’ way after 25 minutes. In the 26th, Fragapane found the ball back at his feet after a free kick just outside the box, and sent a close-range shot over the bar. Shortly after, Valentin found a free-running Garcia in the box, but the ball is just out of the striker’s reach. Even so, a defensive deflection nearly put the ball past keeper Yohei Takaoka, but he was able to make thesave.
15 minutes later, the breakthrough.
Garcia found open space between the Vancouver center backs, and Valentin’s cross was on the money. The striker finished the header to put the Loons out front and Allianz Field roared in celebration.
“Wil [Trapp] played a great ball out for me, and we had runners in the box,” said Valentin. “Mender had a great finish and thankfully I’m able to contribute as much as I can to the attack as well as try to defend as best as possible.”
That was Minnesota’s only shot on frame in the half, and they made it count.
Adrian Heath has talked numerous times already this season about Minneosta needing to start halves better. I don’t think tonight will ease his concerns.
Off the kickoff, Gressel found a mostly unmarked Dajome in the box, but Irwin tipped the header over the bar to keep things level.
Six minutes into the half, the Loons found a breakout with DJ Taylor streaking along the left and sending a nice ball in the box toward Amarilla, but it was JUST out of the Paraguayan’s reach.
From this point on, Vancouver owned a lions share of the possession and quality chances. The 65th minute saw a sustained attack from Vancouver leading to a Pedro Vite effort from just outside the box. The shot beat Irwin but also ended up wide of the bar.
Heath made his first substitution in the 66th minute, bringing Emmanuel Iwe on for his MLS debut, replacing Garcia. Iwe was just signed to a short-term MLS deal earlier in the day from MNUFC2 alongside fellow “Doubloon” Zaydan Bello, who also made his debut in the 76th minute, replacing Dunbar.
“It’s a big step up, whatever anybody thinks,” said Heath. “Playing second-team football then going up to the first team, the intensity, mentally and physically, is completely different. Some of these guys have never played against some of the power and the pace of these people that they played against [tonight], and I thought most of them stood up to be really, really well.”
MNUFC’s defense was put under significant pressure from Vancouver over the final 15+ minutes, with countless shots hurled towards goal. The visitors even found the back of the net in the 77th, thanks to a Tristan Blackmon header, but the linesman put up his offside flag.
After holding the line for nearly the entire second half, the dam finally broke at the absolute death. Newly subbed on Mikael Marques turned it over at midfield, leading to a deflected cross from Vite, which found Becher at the back post, who tucked away the equalizer.
“I just wanted, for the players, to get the reward of getting over the line,” said Heath. “There’s five or six of them running on fumes at the end, and I thought they deserved to take something from it. You know, it’s always disappointing when it’s the last kick of the game.”
Minnesota has two straight road matchups over the next two weekends, traveling to St. Louis for their first-ever match with St. Louis City next Saturday, April 1st, then heading to Chicago for an Easter Saturday matchup with the Fire April 8th.