In what was arguably Minnesota United’s second most impressive Major League Soccer victory to date, the Loons took down one of the Western Conference leaders in the Portland Timbers, 3-2, on Wednesday evening.
The match took place in the home confines of TCF Bank Stadium, which was a welcome reprieve for United after having had a disastrous road trip that saw them go 0-3. In fact, the Loons still have yet to win a road game in the franchise’s burgeoning history (0-6-2). But Minnesota is a force at home as their 5-3-0 record shows.
Portland is a serious MLS Cup contender this season and showed that in United’s first-ever MLS match, thrashing the Loons, 5-1. But parity is exceptional in America’s top flight: Minnesota now has five victories, while the leaders in the West (Sporting KC) have seven. Furthermore, should the Loons win their next match they would be level on points with the reigning MLS champion Seattle Sounders at 20 points apiece. At present, 20 points would also have Minnesota tied for the 6th and final playoff spot in the conference.
So far Minnesota is really a tale of two teams: the sluggish road version and the energetic home dynamo. With wins over Kansas City and Portland, Minnesota has defeated two of the West’s top 3. However, they’ve also played both table toppers on the road and been throttled in three matches (0-3) with a goal differential of 12-1.
So what gives? Lack of belief according to Loon’s head coach Adrian Heath, who sounds like a broken record at this point because seemingly every game he reiterates that he’s told the team they need to believe in themselves.
“Sometimes I think that we’re at our best when we are fired up,” Heath said. “Coming with that is that incidents and decisions go against you sometimes. I would rather have it than not have it. And too many times, we’ve not had it. They’re starting to believe a little bit.”
And as has been made clear thus far, this is just clearly a different team when they play in Minneapolis. Nevertheless, bouncing back from a tough losing streak they United did was impressive.
“It showed a lot of character,” said Heath. “And I don’t know why — I said to the staff — I fancied us tonight. I thought the lads in the dressing room, the mood in the dressing room before the game, you can sense it when you’ve been in it a long time. I thought the lads were up for the battle tonight. And as I say, it’s against a really good team.”
The energy difference showed right from the start as United got a goal from an unlikely source when Sam Cronin made a rare foray forward and sent a devilish cross into the box, it was so pinpoint it made it impossible to clear and Amobi Okugo could do little but accidentally place it in his own net.
Portland equalized when Bobby Shuttleworth made an errant challenge inside the penalty area and the referee granted the Timbers a PK. Portland’s skipper Diego Valeri converted the chance with ease.
But from that point on United brought the play to the Timbers. Kevin Molino is often the fulcrum of the Loon’s attack and that was the case for the second goal when the Trinidad & Tobago international picked out Christian Ramirez with a no-look pass inside the 18-yard box. Ramirez converted with a deft chip over the on-rushing keeper.
“I got more involved in the second half,” Ramirez said. “First half I was making a lot of runs and wasn’t seeing the ball which will happen from time to time. Kevin [Molino] has got a phrase…”
Ramirez yells over to Molino: “Kevin what’s the phrase? Don’t look at the eyes?”
Molino: “Don’t look at the eyes!”
“So I didn’t look at them. I just knew that he was gonna find me. So. it was a great pass by him,” Ramirez said.
The game again, though, would return to deadlock at 2-2 after a United own goal. However, that’s when rookie Abu Danladi stepped to the fore after a peach of a cross from Jerome Thiesson that baited Portland’s goalkeeper into coming way too far out of his own note.
Danladi, 21, showed composure that belies his age when he cushioned his touch perfectly and then smashed the ball home.
“I mean it was good for us to get back at home,” United defender Brent Kallman said. “It really felt like we could get back on the front foot and kind of build on the performances that we were coming off of when we played here. Because we were good, even in the LA game we were really good, even though we didn’t get the result. So, we just wanted to get back to that, back to playing on the front foot and putting teams under pressure, and I think we did a really good job of starting the game.”