The story has been written many times by many different authors this season: Minnesota United are atrocious on the road and had not gotten a positive or neutral result since March 10. Starting a five-game road trip that would define their season, they would have to change that.
In a game that saw Minnesota fall behind to the Los Angeles Galaxy twice, with yellow cards to four starters and an inexplicably stupid late red card to Francisco Calvo, the Loons showed a resilience that had been missing for the entire season as they pulled even both times and finished with a 2-2 draw at StubHub Center.
The game’s early moments looked uncomfortably familiar to frequent viewers, with the Galaxy taking the lead within the first 10 minutes on a remarkably easy-looking chance. Romain Alessandrini’s shot was hit with pace, but no one closed him down and Bobby Shuttleworth could likely have done better with such a long-distance drive.
The man bigger than the game provided the assist for Alessandrini’s goal, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a constant menace to the Minnesota defense, his size alone making life difficult for anyone who marked him. He was kept relatively tame in the game’s early going, but continued to draw fouls with regularity.
Alessandrini was forced off after a little more than 20 minutes with a knee injury away from the play, and one hopes that he receives better news than Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay received in March. No one wants to see a player go off in that situation, and his reaction on the bench was one of sheer distress.
Los Angeles dominated large swaths of the first half, with Minnesota almost completely unable to create chances. Their best half-chance came from the foot of Angelo Rodriguez, flexing some rarely-seen pace to power away from his defender and force David Bingham into a save under pressure.
Darwin Quintero did not seem like his normal self, missing passes and dribbles that would normally be well within his grasp. Miguel Ibarra struggled to find his space to play forward, and the halftime break was necessary. The Galaxy had two huge chances in stoppage time, with Shuttleworth coming up with great saves.
The second half opened with a little more stability from the Loons’ perspective, and just after the hour mark the game was tied from an unlikely source. Michael Boxall, whose defensive efforts on Ibrahimovic had been his most notable contribution, stayed up after a cleared corner kick and found a near-post header from a Quintero cross to tie the game, his first MLS goal.
Boxall and Calvo, who received his first yellow just two minutes after the goal for a foul on Ibrahimovic, continued to be the focal point of the game even through some more positive play from the Loons. The second Galaxy goal was a confounding lack of communication in the Minnesota defense, an error of old.
Sebastian Lletget, who entered at halftime and had been a menace crossing the ball, made a run towards the box with a runner overlapping. Eric Miller was caught in two minds, Rasmus Schuller couldn’t catch up and none of the defenders shut down the run as Lletget went straight to the goal and scored a shockingly easy goal.
The Galaxy threatened to put the game away, restoring some of their dominance, but Adrian Heath’s substitutions turned the tide of the game once again. First Romario Ibarra, then Abu Danladi entered, and the two combined to tie the game a second time.
Danladi made the perfect run to spring the offside trap, and Ibson’s pass to set him free was just what was needed. Danladi crossed, Romario crushed a shot into the roof of the net, and Minnesota were alive again.
The Loons could even dream of winning, with their subs giving them the advantage on the offensive end and creating the best moments of play for the away side on the night. They did not count on their captain finding the most foolish way possible to get himself sent off.
Calvo’s first yellow was a soft call, with Ibrahimovic quick to go down and Calvo happy to argue with Baldomero Toledo about the merit of the foul. His second was the easiest call in the book, after another foul was called. Calvo picked the ball up, and rather than handing it to Toledo or a Los Angeles player, he threw it up into the air.
A second yellow card for timewasting, a call that every MLS referee would have made in almost every situation, when the team that he captains is within the five minutes of stoppage time of their first road point in five months? The decision was remarkably poor, and Calvo’s punishment for his idiocy extends to Minnesota’s next game in Dallas.
Minnesota had small chances to break away in stoppage time, and survived a penalty shout for Ibrahimovic in the game’s dying moments. Zlatan did not get his way, the cross in the following play was cleared and the Loons had survived.
Calvo’s suspension, along with Collen Warner’s yellow forcing an accumulation suspsension, will force Heath to find new solutions for the second road game of this trip. He and the team will take every bit of what they can get from Saturday’s game: perhaps the start of something new on the road.