Photo: MLS NEXT Pro/MNUFC2
A double from midfielder Diogo Pacheco bookended a trio of goals for MNUFC2 in a 3-0 win at Real Monarchs to kick off the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season Friday night in snowy Utah.
The Doubloons’ lineup saw a pair of Minneapolis City products in forward Loic Mesanvi and newly-signed Rory O’Driscoll both getting the start. With normal shoe-in starters Emmanuel Iwe, Devin Padelford, and Zaydan Bello all likely needed for the first-team on Saturday, and standout Molik Jesse Khan on international duty with Trinidad and Tobago, the starting XI also included multiple academy standouts and former trialists who earned their way on the squad during preseason.
“We had Rory [O’Driscoll], who was new to us, playing tonight playing central-midfield where he spent all of last season playing right-back,” said head coach Cameron Knowles. “We had Kage [Romanshyn] playing in there as well. Those three [including Pacheco] were all outstanding.”
Knowles’ side took some time to gain their footing on a slick and snow-covered pitch, but after the first quarter-hour they really hit their stride.
Minnesota, and Pacheco, would open the scoring in the 36th minute, as midfielder Romanshyn (great name!) timed his delivery to Pacheco perfectly. and all the winger had to do was tuck away the point-blank opportunity to put the visitors out in front.
In first-half stoppage time, the lead would be doubled thanks to Leo Conneh (another great name!). The sequence started with Loic Mesanvi getting space in the box and finding Conneh for the finish and a 2-0 halftime lead.
“It was difficult conditions to play the game,” said Knowles. “We were under a little bit in the beginning, but that last half hour of the first half, I thought we were excellent.”
The Doubloons’ gained an even greater advantage early in the 2nd half, as Monarchs’ Zavier Grozo was sent off thanks to a second yellow card after a late challenge on Pacheco,
The 24-year old Pacheco bagged his brace in the 81st minute, finding some space at the top of the box and putting a nice shot past Real’s keeper and into the back of the net.
“They were all together. They were all helping each other through the game and you could feel the energy for the game within the group to get off to a good start,” said Knowles. “We had a good experience here last year, so the returning guys I think were feeling that a little bit. And, there’s a lot of excitement from the guys that are new to the group. Just a good energy, a good feeling in the group.”
Homegrown Fred Emmings started the night in goal and finished with a three-save clean sheet.
MNUFC2 next travels to St. Louis, Missouri to face St. Louis City 2 next Sunday, April 2nd at 5 p.m. CT at CITY Park.