While Minnesota United still have one game remaining after Saturday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Galaxy, all eyes will move from the University of Minnesota’s campus to the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul. The final game in the Loons’ temporary home is complete, and their next home game will be in a completed Allianz Field.
This final home match of 2018 featured one of the biggest names to ever play soccer at this stadium in Zlatan Ibrahimović, with more than 50,000 fans on hand as United slipped to another disappointing defeat. A final score of 3-1 to Los Angeles marked the Loons’ third straight defeat.
With Minnesota long since eliminated from playoff contention and Los Angeles chasing Real Salt Lake for the final playoff seed in the Western Conference, the opportunity for the Loons to play spoiler and impress their home crowd were the remaining motivations. The stadium was as full as it has ever been, and the crowd was loud.
Adrian Heath brought out a strong lineup for this game as well, with the squad’s veteran experience preferred to getting significant minutes for its younger members. Rasmus Schüller returned to the lineup from international duty, with Fernando Bob and Collen Warner completing the midfield of a 4-3-3.
Eyes were on Ángelo Rodríguez after his disappointing outing against Colorado, and whether or not there would be more flashes of his Colombian chemistry with Darwin Quintero. It was Quintero who had the game’s first chance, escaping through on goal within 30 seconds of the kickoff only to shoot straight at David Bingham.
United started the game comfortably on the front foot, but the errors of a team perhaps playing with nerves in front of their largest crowd in history began to seep through, with Ibrahimović’s opening goal the most glaring.
The Scandinavian striker always makes himself the biggest object in the room, with his exceptional play complimented by his outsized personality. After midweek comments that the 50,000 expected fans were there to see him and not the Loons, the club responded by omitting his picture from the pregame introductions and generally attempting to ignore him.
Unfortunately, the ignorance spread to the Loons’ defensive marking, and Ibrahimović has rarely scored an easier goal than his 30th-minute header, completely unmarked as Michael Boxall lost track of the most dangerous man on the pitch. Minnesota had its chances, but the Galaxy had the goal.
With the lack of a finishing touch in the first half, the questions grew louder about what the answer would be, and Los Angeles pushed the issue with two goals in the first six minutes after halftime. First Ola Kamara finished a bouncing ball in the box after Boxall miraculously saved a sure goal, then Ibrahimović found Romain Alessandrini to bury the Minnesotan dreams.
While Minnesota almost immediately pulled a goal back through that Colombian chemistry, it seemed too little, too late. Quintero’s cross from the right side was perfectly placed, and Rodríguez’s flicked header was just enough to beat Bingham and get to the back of the net.
Minnesota had the ball in the net two more times before the game’s finish, but the offside bug of the Colorado game continued to plague them. First, a ball over the top from Fernando Bob was just a second too late for Francisco Calvo’s run, wiping off a world-class finish by the club’s captain.
Ángelo was the next victim, in a similar spot down the right wing as one of the finishes that he lost to VAR in the previous week. This call was even more obvious, not requiring the replay as a fine finish was taken off the board once more. Minnesota threatened and pushed, but a legal goal did not come.
Heath was not as concerned about the offsides, and was very complimentary of Rodríguez’s effort after the game. “It’s something we’ll work on, but I think the last two or three games he’s probably been our outstanding forward. He has made things happen in the game.”
Minnesota did not let the Galaxy off easily, with the second-half returns from injury of both Romario Ibarra and Abu Danladi shifting the formation to a significantly more threatening 3-5-2. Both players looked to feel their way back into the game, and both they and the club likely have more eyes on 2019 than the final whistle of this game.
The final whistle came too early for the miraculous comeback to happen, with just two minutes of stoppage in the second half and no goals from several extended periods of Minnesotan possession. The whistle blew, the loss was complete, and United leave TCF Bank Stadium as they came in, on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Ibrahimović was impressed with the Loons’ effort even in a comfortable victory for his team, but was everything his reputation would indicate in comments to media after the game. “It was a hard one, because I think we played against a good team,” he said.
“Playing away in front of 50,000, like I said, they came for me, but we made them enjoy so I think they’re just as happy as us, and I think it’s a nice memory because I think it’s the last game at this stadium, so I came, I won, I went, is the memory they will get.”
The United mistakes were Heath’s focus. “I think we have moments in games, we have lapses in games that cost us dearly,” he said after the game. “We make a mistake for the second goal, then we go and make another one two seconds later, then the game’s over.”
“We started well, I thought the first two or three better chances were for us. I thought our marking in the box was poor for Zlatan’s first goal, and two poor mistakes from us after that. I can’t fault the effort of the guys to try and get back in it when we did, but the mistakes that we made proved costly to us, and it’s something that we have to eradicate, because it’s something that costs us dearly in most games.”
Minnesota has one game remaining in their season on the road at Columbus, and with the club’s struggles on the road one of the primary talking points of the season at large, there are many reasons that United would like to get a result at MAPFRE Stadium. Columbus needs a win to seal the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference over the Montreal Impact.
“We owe it to Montreal and everybody else, that’s what I’ve just said to the boys,” Heath said. “This might be the last game here, but the guys in Montreal have worked as hard as anybody to get themselves in position to have a chance, and we owe it to them to go and put a performance in.”
“We’ve just gotta show improvement, especially on the road,” Brent Kallman said when asked about the final game. “We have a lot to prove to ourselves and to everybody on the road. We’ve gotta give a good performance, we’ve gotta keep the game close, make sure we’re nice and compact defensively and not give up silly goals. We’ve gotta make Columbus earn everything.”
Miguel Ibarra summed it up nicely. “The thing is for all of us is we’ve gotta go for three points, end the season right, end the season with a W and get ready for next year.”