Image: Minnesota United
Minnesota United FC defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-3 (8-7) in a penalty shootout Tuesday evening at Allianz Field in the round of 32 of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Bongokuhle Hlongwane played a role in all three goals for the Loons, scoring twice and assisting another. The South African International’s substitute cameo changed Minnesota’s fortune on the night.
“I’m pleased for the players,” Head coach Adrian Heath said. “I thought it would’ve been tragic, a travesty, if we hadn’t won the game.”
The Loons conceded equalizing goals with the final touch of the ball in both regulation and Extra Time, with Union fullback Kai Wagner netting a brace across 120 minutes. The German defender leveled the match in the 94th minute of regulation and scored a direct free kick goal in the 120th minute of play, sending it to a penalty shoot out.
“Yeah, he’s fantastic on dead balls, isn’t he? That was why it went late on. When I’d seen him running up, I’m thinking ‘this is one of the few people you want to have that opportunity’ because he’s got a wonderful left foot. Even his free kicks, he puts them in such a good area, every time he puts it in with the pace that you need,” Heath said of Wagner. “It’s Cup football. I’ve had a lot of these games where you sometimes think ‘we’ve had a bit of luck’ or ‘how did we manage that’ but in Cup football, nobody cares. Win and advance, on we go.”
Loons goalkeeper Clint Irwin stepped up big in the ensuing penalty shootout, saving two attempts through eight rounds, including denying Wagner in the eight round to win and advance. The heroic save denied the German a third goal on the night and saw Allianz Field erupt and sing Wonderwall for the first time this campaign.
“It [hearing Wonderwall] was amazing,” Irwin said. “We’ve been trying to get that feeling back in the stands, and it’s great to get a result at home and just hear that, especially after a game like that.”
For Hlongwane, the result meant more than one could think. The Loons forward admitted his confidence was low of late due to not scoring, and the club failing to win a single home game up until Tuesday evening, but two goals and an assist saw the forward cheekily smiling postgame.
“It means a lot. It helped my confidence because I haven’t scored in six games,” Hlongwane said. “I was talking to my mom today and said ‘Today we play, and hopefully we can score because it’s been awhile.’ And she said, ‘That’s your job. You have to [score] so people in Minnesota, who give us their love — we can show our appreciation for them by scoring goals.’ So I am happy.”
Hlongwane described disappointment in the Loons’ failure to close out the match in both regulation and Extra Time, but at the end of the day, it was a win-and-advance scenario.
“It means a lot for us. I thought we were going to finish it [during regulation] because we were up 2-0, but they scored two goals. And we went to extra time, and I thought we were going to win, but they came back and scored the equalizer in the last minute,” Hlongwane said. “I am happy to win our first game at home. Since we started, we haven’t won at home. So, hopefully when we play Houston we will do the same.”
Look ahead: The Loons advance to the fourth round of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and will face an opponent yet to be named. The draw for the next round will take place on Thursday, May 11.
MNUFC returns to league play with a road trip down I35 W to take on Sporting Kansas City in the Friendliest rivalry in sports on Saturday, May 13.