Image: Minnesota United FC
Is there any doubt now how Minnesota United are approaching the Leagues Cup?
Braces from both Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Emanuel Reynoso lifted the Loons to a dominant 4-0 win over Liga MX’s Club Puebla in their first match of the inaugural competition Sunday night at Allianz Field.
Oh yeah, and three of those goals came after losing Michael Boxall to a red card.
“I thought the players were magnificent. I’m really proud of them,” said MNUFC manager Adrian Heath. “The crowd were unbelievable. A really good night for Minnesota United tonight.”
The visitors came into the tournament reeling from a rough start in league play, sitting second-to-bottom in the table and conceding a league-worst seven goals through three matches.
That trend continued in Saint Paul.
After weathering some early pressure, Minnesota found their footing after the quarter-hour mark. In the 24th minute, Hlongwane got out on the run along the right hand side, made a move past a Puebla defender, and finished beautifully on his own to put the home side in front.
Just five minutes later, though, the Loons lost their veteran center-back, as Michael Boxall was shown a red card for violent conduct after VAR review. Replay showed Boxall punching at Guillermo Martinez’s ribs, and no clear view of what caused that reaction. A Leagues Cup official confirmed to Sota Soccer that the Loons can appeal the decision, but as of now Boxall is suspended for Thursday’s match vs. Chicago.
After the match, Heath said hadn’t gotten a chance to view the replay, but will take a look before deciding whether or not to file an appeal.
Despite being a man down, Minnesota kept their foot on the gas, and it paid dividends after halftime.
In the 52nd minute, Hlongwane buried another, this time off a perfect cross from Reynoso. Not only was it the winger’s second of the night, it marked his 10th goal in all competitions this season.
“It was a great play. Great ball in from Rey, and a great header. Great finish,” said Heath. “But they have to have the willingness to get there, and that’s what gets you the goal. We’ve spoken about getting in goal scoring positions all the time, and [Bongi] has done it again tonight.”
Allianz was elated, but the scoring wasn’t close to over.
After being assisted by his Argentine teammate, Bongi returned the favor in the 59th minute, as the South African capitalized off a lazy turnover from the visitors, fed Reynoso directly in front of goal, and the Loons’ No. 10 doesn’t miss from there, making it three.
As if a trifecta of goals wasn’t enough, Reynoso decided to place himself on every highlight reel for the foreseeable future. Following Hlongwane earning a free kick just outside the box, MNUFC’s talisman stepped up and curled an immaculate free kick in the top right corner, putting the near 19,000 in attendance into a frenzy.
After such a decisive win, Hlongwane felt the scoreline made a broader statement league and tournament-wide.
“I feel like the standard is not the same,” said Hlongwane. “I think MLS is on another level from Liga MX. I’m not undermining Liga MX, but today shows that we are far better than Liga MX.”
The win puts Minnesota in pole position in their group ahead of their second and final group stage match with Chicago Fire Thursday at Allianz Field. The only scenario that doesn’t see the Loons go through to the knockout rounds is if Chicago defeats them on Thursday, and Puebla down the Fire in their group stage matchup.