Image: Minnesota United
Kei Kamara’s time with Minnesota United left many Loons fans wanting more goals from one of the most decorated players in MLS history.
Saturday night, MNUFC supporters got to see Kamara score twice, but for the other team, as the Chicago Fire handed Minnesota their first loss of the 2023 season 2-1 at Soldier Field.
Kamara opened the scoring in the 24th minute, as he took a shot deep in the box that deflected off of Micky Tapias and into the back of the net. The offside flag initially went up, but a VAR check overturned the decision and granted the 38-year old his second goal of the season.
The defensive stoutness that propelled the Loons to their undefeated start wasn’t quite as effective against Chicago, with a plethora of midfield turnovers giving the hosts plenty of chances to test Dayne St. Clair, and more crosses found the head of Fire attackers than Adrian Heath would like.
“The first half performance was the worst we played all season,” said Adrian Heath. “I thought we were second best in every department. Individually [Chicago] bossed us all over the field and collectively they looked like they wanted it more than we did.”
One of those crosses came from the foot of Arnaud Souquet, a long one into the box, where Kamara was able to beat Michael Boxall to the aerial ball and glance a diving header past St. Clair for his brace just 36 minutes into the match..
With the goal, Kamara passed Jaime Moreno for 2nd all time in MLS goals, now trailing only Landon Donovan.
“[Kamara] really confident at this period in time. He has always had good movement,” said Heath. “When you have somebody of his stature, when the ball comes in the box, invariably if it’s a good ball he’s going to cause trouble and that’s what he did tonight.”
After holding only 38% possession over the first 45′, the visitors turned the tide after the break and would find a lifeline in the 57th minute, courtesy of a Kervin Arriaga bullet free-kick that hit the gloves of Chicago goalkeeper (and former Forward Madison loanee) Chris Brady, but the 19-year old couldn’t hang on, popping the ball over his head and into the goal.
The goal seemed to help Minnesota find an extra gear, as they found more opportunities over the ensuing minutes.
“Second half we played a bit more like ourselves,” said Heath. “We got into the game and played with a bit more intensity and purpose in our play; started to have some possession in their half of the field and we gave ourselves a chance. As I said to the guys at halftime, the game is either finished or you give yourself an opportunity to make something out of it, and that’s what we did. But, the overriding feeling now is that we gave the game away in the first half.”
To try and grab an equalizer, Heath turned to his new signing Sang Bin Jeong, who made his debut in the 61st minute, replacing Luis Amarilla. The 21-year old brought a level of energy you would want from a second-half sub and even sent in a pair of nice crosses, adding yet another weapon to this team’s set-piece arsenal.
“[Sang Bin] showed some nice touches and I thought he put two or three great free kicks into the box,” said Heath. “He will be better just for getting thirty minutes and getting on the field and settling down. We have a really good player and now we have to integrate him into the group.”
More possession and chances would follow for the Loons, the best of which came in the 86th minute. A cross found the head of Hassani Dotson at the near post, and the midfielder put an excellent effort on frame, but Brady made an excellent save and also denied the rebound opportunity from Bongokuhle Hlongwane.
While the first blemish on the record, and the first time getting anything less than three points on the road, doesn’t leave the team feeling great heading onto the plane back to Minneapolis, the context of what the team has been able to accomplish prior to this loss isn’t lost on the players.
“We should use this,” said captain Wil Trapp. “We should look at the game and see what didn’t work for us and things that were good from us, and learn to move forward. That’s all you can do. Again, it’s a long season, there’s a lot of games, and this is a situation in which we have to learn from it.”
The Loons return to Allianz Field next Saturday, April 15, for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with Orlando City.