Thu. Sep 21st, 2023

Image: Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United did something a lot of people thought they wouldn’t do Friday night, go into Columbus and come away still alive in the 2023 Leagues Cup. Another brace from Bongokuhle Hlongwane, some PK heroics from Dayne St. Clair, and the ultimate match-winner from Micky Tapias were enough for the Loons to survive, topping the crew 4-3 in a shootout following a 3-3 stalemate after 90 minutes.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the win:

Bongi’s Brilliance

Where would Minnesota United be in 2023 without the play of their young South African winger?

That’s a question Loons fans have been asking A LOT this season, because Hlongwane has been so crucial to the team’s success, and that impact has been exponentially larger in the Leagues Cup.

Two more goals on Friday temporarily placed Bongi atop the tournament’s scoring list, ahead of Lionel Messi before the Argentine added a double of his own Sunday night to regain the top spot. Either way, the MNUFC attacker has six of the club’s nine goals through three tournament matches, and whether or not they continue in this competition will likely depend on if Hlongwane can sustain this success.

Bounce Back Banger

There’s really no other way to put it. Columbus were gifted a goal or two on Friday.

After getting out front early, Minnesota were looking to take that lead into the halftime locker room. However, a turnover in the defensive half from Hassani Dotson led to a short counter opportunity, eventually finding the foot of Malte Amundson, who netted the equalizer.

To make matters worse, there was worry Dotson may have to come off due to injury late in the 2nd half, as a collision sent the American to the turf with fear that he may have received a concussion. However, the on-site medical staff determined he did not sustain anything serious and could remain in the match.

With that green light, the Loons’ midfielder received an opportunity to redeem himself late on. After former MNUFC striker Christian Ramirez scored the potential winner for the Crew, it was Dotson who gave the visitors late life.

In the waning moments, Dotson received a pass from Emanuel Reynoso at the top of the box and fired a low driven shot, It took a minor deflection and found the back of the net to send the match to PKs.

DSC in PKs

After coming out on the wrong side of his last two shootout appearances (2022 playoffs and 2023 Gold Cup), Dayne St. Clair made sure he wasn’t losing this one.

With the shootout all tied at 3-3, and former Loon Kevin Molino set to take the next shot and potentially give Columbus the edge, St. Clair decided to go out and greet his old teammate with a pre-shot hug. If that was designed to play a bit of mindgames, it worked, because the goalkeeper would go on to save Molino’s shot and the next two Crew attempts to help Minnesota secure the win.

Now, the Loons fly back home to Allianz Field for a Tuesday evening Leagues Cup Round of 16 matchup against Deportivo Toluca FC from LIGA MX. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.

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