Image: Minnesota United FC
The Chicago Fire defeated Minnesota United 3-2 Thursday evening in a second-half thriller featuring five goals and a 34-minute weather delay at Allianz Field.
Loons winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane netted a brace for the second-consecutive match, but the South Africa international’s heroics were not enough to see them through to the final whistle.
“Obviously incredibly disappointed,” MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath said. “We had enough chances to have won the game and we’ve given three really poor goals away. The penalty is our fault. Bongi [Bongokuhle Hlongwane] and DJ [Taylor] both went for the same ball, lack of communication. And Dayne [St.Clair] should have probably saved the third. You’ve heard me say a lot of times, concede three goals, you won’t win many games. But we had enough chances to have won the game.”
The Loons held the lead twice in the match, but could not keep up with the late tempo surge from their opposition. A Kei Kamara header in the 84th minute sealed all three points for the Fire in their opening match of the group stage.
Despite the loss, the Loons have mathematically sealed their fate into the knockout round of the tournament.
“Whoever we play, I’ve been really impressed with the job Wilfred Nancy’s done there [Columbus Crew SC] this year. They’re a good team to watch. They are a difficult team to play against. They spread you out and they’ve got good players on the ball. They’ve got the likes of Cucho [Hernandez] up front, and they’ve got [Lucas] Zelarayan and Christian [Ramirez] Obviously, that would be a big game for him [Christian Ramirez] if he was to play us,” Heath said. “And now I’ve just been watching the game and Club America looked very, very strong, looked really, really good in the game this evening [Club America vs. Columbus Crew SC]. They’ve got pace and power up front and a lot of creativity in midfield. So, whoever we get, hopefully we’ll be getting a home game, and if we do I think we will give a good count to ourselves, but whoever we get we are going to have a tough night on for sure.”
MNUFC’s Hlongwane expressed immense disappointment in the result postgame, despite his outstanding performance.
“I thought we had the game in our hands,” Hlongwane said postgame. The scorer of both the Loons goals on the night saw his goal tally reach 12 on the season in all competitions, but neither goal mattered in the moment to the winger, as the Loons “couldn’t protect” their lead over the final stretch of the match.
“I would be more proud of myself if the team got the maximum amount of points… I’m not proud because we couldn’t win,” Hlongwane said.
Despite the result, Hlongwane and the Loons are ready for the next round. “It was our main point [qualifying],” he added, saying that even though they “can’t predict the future” they hope to host the contest at Allianz Field.
The Loons’ knockout round fate will be determined Monday, July 31 following the conclusion of both the matches between the Fire and Club Puebla and then the Columbus Crew and Club America.
Knockout round scenarios:
- MNUFC will host a match at Allianz Field If either 1.) They finish first in their group (C1) or 2.) They finish second in their group (C1) and Club America finishes first in their group (C2).
- MNUFC will travel to play the Columbus Crew in the knockout round if 1.) MNUFC finishes 2nd in their group (C1) or 2.) The Crew finish first in their group (C2).
- The Loons will take first place in their group (C1) if Club Puebla beats the Chicago Fire by less than three goals Monday evening and will finish second in their group if Club Puebla beats Chicago by more than three goals OR if the Fire obtain any points at all.
The Loons will entertain the likes of Club America or the Crew at Allianz Field if they end up hosting a match. Looking ahead to the weekend’s matches, though, Heath will be rooting for the Liga MX side to ensure hosting rights for his side come the Round of 32. Those two sides clash Monday evening as well to determine which side takes first in their group.
“Oh, for sure. I think I’m not the only coach who wants to stay here and not be traveling,” Heath said. “Columbus [Crew SC] is really really good at home as well. It would be nice to play, whoever we play, to play here because if we play well, we’re more than capable of beating anybody here.”