Image: Travis Gallipo
When Minnesota United and Los Angeles Football Club get together in Saint Paul, there’s only one score-line that can come out of the matchup.
Saturday night marked the fourth time in as many matches at Allianz Field that the Loons and LAFC played to a 1-1 draw. Even with the point against the defending MLS Cup Champions, it can definitely feel like a missed opportunity to get a much-needed road win ahead of a break in league play.
“I thought they were excellent,” said manager Adrian Heath of his team’s performance. “Playing the reigning champions and we should have won the game. I thought our football in the first half was probably the best we had played all season.”
19,954 packed the house, marking the largest ever crowd for a match at MNUFC’s Cathedral.
The home side had a great chance to get out in front early, as Bongokuhle Hlongwane passed through the LAFC back line to striker Teemu Pukki next to the 18-yard box in the 13th minute. Pukki played a cross in where Emanuel Reynoso, turning with the ball, laid off a pass for Hlongwane to run onto for a shot, but his attempt was saved by goalkeeper John McCarthy.
In the 21st minute, the visitors would take advantage of their own opportunity. After winning a challenge in the middle of the field, Stipe Biuk flicked a ball over top to Carlos Vela. With a touch around Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair, who came off his line to confront the attack, Vela capitalized for the 1-0 lead.
“Vela ran off Bakaye [Dibassy] and then I am there, and didn’t make good enough contact to get it back to Dayne [St. Clair],” said defender Michael Boxall. “[If] you give someone with half [Vela’s] quality they are going to finish those chances.”
We’ve seen Minnesota teams in the past let an opposing first goal take the wind out of their sales, but Saturday was a different story. Just three minutes after LAFC’s opener, Kervin Arriaga combined with Hlongwane on a give-and-go, eventually reaching Emanuel Reynoso. The Argentine played back to Bongi, who found Arriaga once again, who then chipped it to Reynoso, taking his shot off the volley and slipping it past McCarthy for the equalizer.
After a stalemate over the end of the first half and beginning of the second, MNUFC nearly found the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute, beginning with a perfectly-timed dummy by Sang Bin Jeong, allowing Reynoso to create a 2v1 with Hlongwane in the face of John McCarthy. Reynoso dished the ball to the South African just as he was slowing his run to stay onside. The momentary mistiming led to a pass that was a touch too far out in front of Bongi, and his lunging shot close to the by-line missed wide of the woodwork.
15 minutes later, the final whistle blew, and the record crowd at Allianz Field left with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
“There wasn’t a lot between the two teams today,” said Heath. “That’s my confidence level. That we played arguably the best team in the league. And I’m sure that if you asked their people, they were delighted to get out of here with a point. Sometimes you look at the positive. Today is one of them.”
With the result, Minnesota sits 10th in the West on 28 points, just one point behind Houston for a playoff spot and three behind Vancouver for a seventh place “bye”.
The Loons now turn their attention away from league play and toward the inaugural Leagues Cup, pitting MLS clubs in a Cup competition with sides from Liga MX. Minnesota’s opener takes place Sunday, July 23rd against Club Puebla. Kickoff at Allianz Field is set for 8 p.m. and can be viewed on MLS Season Pass and FS1.
MNUFC don’t return to league play until August 20th.