By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell
July 4, 2018
The Loons returned home Wednesday night for an Independence Day cross-conference matchup against the reigning champs Toronto FC. Both sides came in looking to break a three-game losing streak and, for once, Minnesota United FC was not the cure-all drug for another team’s woes.
There were some changes in Minnesota’s lineup with defender Francisco Calvo returning from World Cup duty and midfielder Miguel Ibarra back from a red card suspension. Their roles were shifted somewhat in a 3-5-2 lineup, with Calvo sitting in a three-man backline alongside Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall, while Ibarra was shifted into a wingback position on the right side of a five-man midfield. A pyramid of Canadians awaited them.
But the base of that pyramid crumbled quickly. For the first time in a long while, Minnesota took ownership of an early lead, rather than give it away. Just eight minutes in, Darwin Quintero broke down Toronto’s five-man defense, setting up a shot that would split two frantic defenders and float into the upper-left corner. One-nil in under ten minutes, in favor of Minnesota. A Christmas miracle in July, courtesy of The Scientist.
Just five minutes later, Calvo saw Ibarra ready to make a run and sent him the ball. Batman sped down the center of the pitch, just one man in red on his flank, Irwin coming far off his line in hopes of intercepting him. He did not. Ibarra knocked the ball right past the keeper to put Minnesota up 2-0.
Us: Miguel, we need a goal
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 4, 2018
Toronto managed to take one back before halftime, after a mistake in what coach Adrian Heath would later call a “busy box.” Ibson failed to clear a ball from Kallman, instead passing right in front of Justin Morrow, who connected easily on a slide. 2-1 Minnesota.
From the start of the second half, it was obvious that Toronto’s halftime chat centered around containing Quintero. The five defenders certainly had his number, but they misdialed a few times…
52nd minute: Quintero finds a gap, steps into the box and shoots. Goal. 3-1.
58th minute: Quintero is triple-teamed, but the three defenders pay no attention to each other’s movements and lose him again. Quintero makes a run, shoots. Goal. 4-1.
That goal marked Quintero’s first hat trick as a Loon (the fourth in his career) and the first for MNUFC since joining the MLS. Quintero cited an observation of Irwin’s behavior as the key to those three goals: “I noticed from the beginning that he took two steps forward to anticipate plays. In some games it works, in others, it doesn’t. Today all of them went in.”
Study the evolution here:
When each goal in a hat trick is pure class >>>
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 5, 2018
He celebrated in the corner, with fans who tossed him their caps, and his teammates who piled on top of him. Christian Ramirez put a cap on the DP’s head which earned him a yellow.
“I thought it was the right thing to do at the time; didn’t know it was deserving of a yellow,” Ramirez said with a chuckle in the locker room. “I asked him to give me the yellow instead, but…”
Sorry Darwin for your yellow card, but I couldn’t help myself and had to give you hat 😂🤷🏽♂️ didn’t know that would cause a yellow tho 🧐
— Christian Ramirez (@Chris_Ramirez17) July 5, 2018
Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, quiet all evening, a shadow of his former self, notched a goal in the 70th minute that seemed a message to all present, “Hey, I’m not retired yet.” Bobby Shuttleworth could do nothing other than watch it float by him and into the net.
We have to give Heath credit for maintaining the formation, not simply parking the bus. His first two subs were offensive-minded: Mason Toye for Ramirez, Collin Martin for Schuller. Martin earned a standing ovation and the loudest (non-goal) cheers of the night as he made his first appearance since coming out last Friday.
It wasn’t until the 86th minute that United parked the bus, with Quintero pulled in favor of a defender, Eric Miller. But they left the windows open.
Toronto pulled off one more goal in stoppage time, in the final minute of play. 4-3.
But the whistle blew. A streak was snapped. Minnesota came out on top for the first time since May.
Before the goosebumps subside, before the last notes of Wonderwall can fade from the supporters’ consciousness, the Loons will play a match with bigger consequences. On Saturday, United face Houston Dynamo, a club well ahead of them in the playoff race and they will have to do it without Calvo (yellow card accumulation) and with a depleted squad on tired legs.
At least we will always have Wednesday.
Featured image: @MNUFC
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