The tone and mood after a 3-2 Minnesota United win would be much different had you just checked your phone for the final score and seen a second straight home win for the Loons.
The win featured multiple goals scored, an opponent in playoff position vanquished and a vital homestand opened with three points.
Rather than the celebration of Wonderwall or the relief of Real Salt Lake not finding an equalizer after United had let a 3-0 lead shrink to a single goal late in the game, the tone of Adrian Heath’s post-game remarks was that of sheer anger at his team’s consistent habit of allowing late goals against, in wins or losses.
To discover how Heath arrived at this point, one must first look at just how well United played for the great majority of this match. The first half was a scrappy affair with no goals, as Salt Lake’s pressure forced mistakes in possession from the home team but failed to create an opening, while United’s offense purred but the final ball was lacking, as it so often has been this season.
The visitors had the two best chances of the first half and really should have had the lead at the break, with Damir Kreilach missing both a free header outside the frame of the goal and shooting directly at Bobby Shuttleworth when wide open inside the box.
Minnesota had no clear chances, but Nick Rimando’s box was bombarded by cross after cross, with Salt Lake’s defenders forced into multiple last-ditch clearances to keep the ball away from Christian Ramirez, who on another night with less capable defenders could have had a hat-trick.
Ramirez went yet another shift without a goal, and United’s efforts to get their striker on the board were very clear through his entire 85 minutes on the pitch. No chance was clear enough, and no moment of magic came as his personal goal drought hit 335 minutes.
Only his 397-minute drought to open the season has been longer this year.
The second-half opening came from the creation of Darwin Quintero, who wriggled free of a Justen Glad tackle — Glad claimed a foul but is giving up 10 inches in size — to put in an unmissable cross which Ibson duly buried.
His third goal of the season opened the door for United to dominate the proceedings.
After a disappointing appearance on the road against Houston, Quintero’s threat began to grow. His goal in the 62nd minute was a throwback to his last appearance at TCF Bank Stadium, a ridiculous chipped goal that had Rimando dead to rights.
Quintero’s goal was a beauty, but the assist and the run that created the space for him should not be lost in the replays. It was a tackle and rampaging run by Francisco Calvo all the way from his post in the backline that created space for Darwin’s shot, and Calvo’s pass was just right.
Calvo has not taken the freedoms a three-man backline could allow, but this was the perfect example of what his vision and prowess on the ball could do for United’s attack.
The third goal again came from the foot of Quintero, with Miguel Ibarra the deserving benefactor. Ibarra put in a trademark performance on defense and offense, from critical interceptions and tackles to penetrating runs and the confident finish. His goal tally trails only Darwin’s on the season, and he is the player one would trust most to finish a chance on current form.
Everything seemed to be smooth sailing as Heath began to make substitutions with the heavy upcoming schedule in mind: first Ibson off for Collin Martin, then an appearance for Maximiano in place of Rasmus Schüller.
As Maximiano prepared to enter in the 77th minute, Salt Lake began its comeback.
The goal from Joao Plata was a perfectly taken free kick from just outside the United box, which beat both the wall and Shuttleworth. It had been a bad foul to give up the opportunity, but the warning signs were there.
After all, United had led Toronto by three goals and gave up two in late, dramatic fashion.
The postgame fury was compounded as the second goal came. Plata again was the benefactor, a cross from Brooks Lennon meant for his head with Ibarra beaten on the run, and suddenly the game’s closing minutes were set to be dramatic.
All told, Minnesota actually played out the final minutes of the game well. There were critical interceptions from Maximiano, a wise run to the corner by Mason Toye, key recoveries and tackles by Alexi Gómez and a bicycle kick clearance by Calvo to seal the game. United had their three points, but the mood was surely different than it had been at the 75th minute up 3-0.
Heath’s comments after the game painted every picture necessary.
“Three points, did our best to throw it away,” he said. “Tried to throw away 75 minutes of good work by people deciding that they know best, they’ll do what they want rather than doing what we know is right.”
No players were targeted.
“Doesn’t matter who they are,” Heath continued. “We win together, we lose together. The group. The group scored the goals, the group conceded the goals. The game should have been over. Game’s done. Seventy-five minutes of quality football.”
Asked what it would take to change these results, Heath said: “For them to understand that they don’t know everything and do what’s asked of them, and we’ll be okay. There’s too many people here around this football club who have an opinion on it.
“For me to be in this mood after we’ve won a game and played so well for 75 minutes is ridiculous. But, we tried to do it against Toronto. We’ve done it on the road, did it in Colorado. Maybe they’ll start listening to the coaches instead of everything else that’s going around the club.”
There was no further clarification given on what these comments meant, but for this to be the narrative after Minnesota won their sixth game of the season at home is troubling.
“It was just the mental lapses again. Very similar to the Toronto game, where the game should be dead, buried. We’re up by three goals, (against) Toronto we’re up 4-1,” said Michael Boxall afterward.
“Just, I don’t know what it is. It’s hard to put a finger on one thing, but on the ball we just make bad decisions, and then we don’t press like we should in the final third. That gives them the opportunity to put easy balls into the box, and when you’re a yard or two off, that’s my fault. Had a few people biting fingernails at the end of it.”
Ibarra was at the same point.
“I think the most important thing is we got three points,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got to do better. We had a 3-0 lead, really comfortable and we’re playing well, and they score two goals and now we’re defending again. So I think we just have to be better at closing out the games.”
In regards to Heath’s demeanor, Ibarra agreed with his mood.
“I mean, he’s right,” Ibarra said. “He came in here and he said we had the whole game in control. He said we were playing really well and now they scored two and now we’re struggling in the end. In the last 15 minutes, I think we just have to close better.”
Very simply, this should have been a significantly more comfortable finish than it was. Salt Lake is a good team, but it has been one of the few teams as bad as Minnesota on the road, and United had this game dead and buried, as Boxall put it.
United will still gladly take the three points, and perhaps the team will learn something from the dangerous final 15 minutes moving into a challenging week of fixtures, with New England on Wednesday and Los Angeles FC on Sunday evening.
The homestand started on a positive note, but it could have felt a lot more right.