By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell
Saturday, June 29: 7-1 win
Starting XI: Vito Mannone, Chase Gasper, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Hassani Dotson, Osvaldo Alonso (Lawrence Olum 70′), Jan Gregus, Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero (Kevin Molino 61′), Ethan Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez (Mason Toye 62′)
Minnesota United FC have struggled to find the back of the net this season, winning low-scoring games and losing on the back of a stale attack. Any Minnesota sports fan will tell you not to count on a shaky expansion side like FC Cincinnati to pad your goal average, but just 30 minutes into the match everyone in blue and orange was sweating and not just because of the 95 degree heat index.
Sure, scoring 4 goals in 45 minutes is less impressive when it comes against a squad depleted of internationals, players the club relies on to stave off overwhelming defeat. Scoring 7 in 90 minutes against said club… Well, that’s not expected from a club that used to be that club.
Despite a low 38% share of overall possession, Minnesota United pulled out a 7-1 win over the newest expansion club, with 6 different Loons making the score sheet and 2 forwards sharing in the spoils.
For the first time in a long time (or ever) Adrian Heath’s go-to slogan, “Goals change games,” was a positive reflection of his squad’s performance. With a trio of first half goals sinking Cincy’s possession-based momentum. True to recent form, backfield players were credited with those goals, continuing the Loons’ offensive drought.
All 4 were beautiful goals, but the most impressive perhaps came from rookie Hassani Dotson. Cal Williams, calling the nationally televised game for a local radio audience on SKOR North, called it “a pure Minnesota Black-and-Blue belter.”
Cincinnati came out of the locker room after halftime primed to slow Minnesota’s momentum. They made one substitute at the break, taking advantage of a lopsided 3-0 scoreline to give midfielder Tommy McCabe his MLS debut before the regulars return from international duty. It wasn’t long before their quick movements bore fruit. Midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma was able to slot a quick shot past Vito Mannone to put the visitors on the board in the 56th minute.
Typically, conceding an early goal is enough to damper any offensive moves from the Loons. Cue another Heath standby: “I said to the players at half the first 15 minutes will dictate the other 30. Which it does. Because we conceded a sloppy goal. You know, there’s no way we can dress that up because it was a poor goal to concede.” Indeed. But Saturday was far from typical, as Heath added, “The response from that was terrific.”
Unbelievable and beautiful were just some of the words heard around in the press box and on the broadcasts to describe the Loons’ second half offensive renewal. Following a 70th minute brace from Opara, Mason Toye finally scored his first goal for the club in MLS competition in the 75th minute.
I’ve been trying to score goals since I got here. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for me, a bit of a mental game. I’ve just been trying to work hard and I’ve heard the goals will come. So, it feels really good that my hard work is paying off.
Twelve minutes later, he added an assist as Kevin Molino, fresh off of a Gold Cup stunner for Trinidad & Tobago, poked his way into the box to put the final nail in the coffin.
It was a true team effort. Defensive mid Jan Gregus, back from Slovakia national duty, tallied a gentleman’s hat trick, assisting Dotson, Opara and Toye. Darwin Quintero marked 2 assists and very nearly made a couple goals of his own. Rookie Chase Gasper made his first career start and stood tall for a full 90 minutes on the left flank.
Midfielder Miguel Ibarra still had energy to burn in the waning minutes of the game, sprinting the full length of the pitch as if the Loons were down a goal rather than up by 6. Opara stunned his Cincinnati counterparts with his first career brace.
“Sporting Kansas City didn’t want to win,” people said after the Loons’ Fourth Round Open Cup victory. “Houston wasn’t at their best,” they said after the Round of 16. “It’s only Cincinnati” was a justifiable reaction after the first half. Seven goals. Six, beautiful, perfect strikes – and one off of Opara’s… thigh? This match wasn’t ‘just’ anything in any way, shape or form.
Goals change games. Goals also change mentality, spirit, drive, confidence. Goals change hearts and minds. Goals from those who were brought in to score them and score them often earns trust. Goals from players not thought of as ‘strikers’ in any sense earns respect. Goals are what fans at Allianz Field and dozens of travelling supporters should have been witness to from Day 1 of the 2019 season.
On Saturday, 19,778 fans witnessed goals galore. “Downright bizarre,” said Williams. Downright glorious. And the Loons go marching on – to two matches that will set the tone for the rest of their season.
MN United FC hosts fellow Western Conference playoff contenders San Jose Earthquakes before a cross-conference trip to Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Featured image: Louis Livingston-Garcia // @LouisGarcia12
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