Image: Minnesota United
A 79th minute penalty kick from forward Luis Amarilla secured all three points for Minnesota United FC in a 1-0 victory over St. Louis CITY SC Saturday evening at CITYPARK.
Amarilla was brought down in the box by CITY defender Kyle Hiebert and the Paraguayan forward smashed the ball home from the penalty spot past goalkeeper Roman Burki. With the win, the Loons undefeated start to the season remains intact while CITY dropped their first points of the campaign.
“I thought we were excellent in the second half, I thought it was the best we played all season,” MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath said. “So, approach play and play out the back under pressure was excellent. I knew that at some stage in the first half we’d have to ride our luck a little bit and withstand the pressure, which we did.”
The Loons 2023 campaign has them beginning the season in stunning fashion, accumulating the most points the club has ever had since they entered the league in 2017 through Week Six. Going into Week Seven, they sit 4th in the West, level on points with 3rd place LAFC at 11.
The match marked the first time this season the Loons were without star midfielder Robin Lod, who missed the match due to illness, and it forced Heath to mix up both his tactics and starting XI… with it paying off at the final whistle.
“If we’re going to make personnel changes we try and put everybody in the best spots for them. And you know, rather than Mender (Garcia) wide left or Luis (Amarilla) in a different spot or underneath, we went with a 4-4-2 and I think we looked dangerous on the break all evening — even in the first-half, you know we had two or three great chances and maybe the final ball could have been a little bit better but overall with what’s gone on this year… I’m trying to find a year when it’s been as difficult with something cropping up all the time like it’s done this season. So, respect to the players, incredible effort.”
The chippy contest saw the two sides go back-and-forth through the first 45 minutes, with yellow cards being handed to both Jared Stroud and Franco Fragapane in the first half. Five total cards were shown during the contest, with three to the Loons. Heath said they had to “match the aggression” that CITY brought to the pitch, but a stern halftime talk towards Fragapane helped set the tone for the final 45 minutes.
“I just said to him, you know, we were not going to win this game with 10 men so be sensible. If you’re not sure, you stay on your feet and just get behind the ball. Don’t be getting off your feet and giving the referee no alternative. And fortunately, he did that.”
The third-straight road win had Heath buzzing postgame, but the Loons boss was adamant in repeating how impressive of a performance it was for his side. The squad overcame many midweek obstacles, with starting defender Michael Boxall sharing postgame that he was sick all week and did not train until pregame Saturday evening. The New Zealand international said he was “worried that we were wearing white shorts with our kits,” for context’s sake. The veteran played the entire 90 minutes and helped keep a clean sheet on the day.
“So to come here – magnificent stadium, by the way, – great atmosphere, and to sort of put a performance in like that with one or two things that have gone on this week, it’s incredible,” Heath said. “We couldn’t couldn’t get Sang Bin here in the end, Boxy’s traveled 24 hours, Bongi (Bongokuhle Hlongwane) 24 hours, both arrived back late Thursday evening (From International Duty). So for some of the players to put the performances in that they have it’s it speaks volumes of their attitude so couldn’t be more pleased”
The Loons have now recorded three-straight road wins, beating three Western Conference opponents along the way. Boxall said it “speaks volumes” to the progress they have made and the unity within the squad at the moment, while adding that this season they’re “not relying on one player to get us out of holes” and that Heath has prepared them both physically and mentally for these contests.
Another road test awaits the Loons as they travel to take on the Chicago Fire in Week Seven. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 pm CT on Saturday, April 8.