As autumn truly hit Minnesota and the cool air and early sunrise came to TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota United were ready to continue the home form that has kept their point total respectable in 2018.
A win on Saturday would mark their 10th of the season, a landmark in a season marked by disappointment away from home.
New York City FC were obliging guests, with their star player David Villa not playing as the team looked off the pace from the start. Minnesota’s first-half dominance at home made the perfect match, and a 2-0 start was enough to once again keep United ahead at the end as they finished 2-1 victors, a second straight win in the bag.
The suspensions of Maximiano and Fernando Bob after the 3-2 win over Portland forced Adrian Heath to once again change his lineup and formation. Alexí Gómez was recalled for his first appearance since Aug. 4, and Jérôme Thiesson returned again to the starting lineup as United moved to a 4-4-2.
The Colombian duo of Darwin Quintero and Ángelo Rodríguez up top were at the focal point of the game, as they often are, but it was Rodríguez’s night to shine brightest. The game’s opening goal in the 20th minute had his exclamation point of a headed finish, with a sumptuous cross from Miguel Ibarra to lead the way.
“Prior to that I already had two that I was looking for him, and they didn’t go off, but I had one clear one and I saw him make the second post run,” said Ibarra after the game. “I put it in there, and he finished.”
The cross was at a point where it was nearly impossible to miss, and Rodríguez made no mistake.
Rodríguez’s second was a massive mistake by the New York defense. Ben Sweat collected a turnover and looked to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper, but his pass was severely under hit and Ángelo had read his intent, easily stealing the ball and rounding the ‘keeper to double the lead.
“I knew the defender was just looking at the goalkeeper,” Rodríguez said through translation after the game. “So, I think the opportune moment arrived. It’s a play that, well, the coach wants us to be the first defenders up top.”
United entered halftime with that two-goal lead, comfortable again. Just before halftime, a yellow card was issued to Collen Warner that would prove critical before the game’s end, as another comfortable first half led to the second half’s discomfort.
The game’s refereeing was in the spotlight once again. José Carlos Rivero had largely been willing to let plays develop, and in some cases too willing to do so. Quintero could have received a yellow card or worse in the first half for contact to a player’s head and neck area with an elbow, exactly what Bob was sent off for.
New York took the unwillingness to make a call as a signal to go to ground harder and more frequently. Alexander Ring received the loudest displeasure from the home crowd after falling to the ground unmoving after arguably being fouled, with play continuing and Minnesota eventually stopping play by kicking the ball out of bounds, only for Ring to immediately stand.
The boos were close to the loudest noise of the evening, and Ring was booed every time he touched the ball until he was withdrawn five minutes later. The timing could have been fortunate, but with Ring and Jo Inge Berget both prone to falling over at will, the home support had no kind thoughts for the visitors.
The foul that sent the game’s close into its usual intrigue, however, was very much a foul. Warner chased a loose ball in midfield and went to ground for a tackle when he was beaten, but the ball was nowhere close to a threat and his tackle was poor.
The second yellow card was deserved, and Minnesota would once again have to finish a match down a man.
Impressively, United were relatively comfortable down a man. The formation was solid, with Eric Miller’s introduction to move to a 5-3-1 the right tweak for the moment. Harrison Heath made his first appearance since July 7 in place of Gómez, who faded into his familiar bad habits after an extremely solid first half.
Even New York’s goal was one of the flukier events of the evening. VAR was called to see if a City player was offside when attempting to head the ball while on the ground two feet from the goal line, and did not change Rodney Wallace’s eventual punch into the goal. Heath’s comments after the game threw it into further confusion.
“For some reason, the players are saying that the referee said something about ‘we have the wrong angles for VAR.’ We’ve either got VAR or we haven’t, so I don’t really know. I’d like to see it again, one of our TV guys thought he was offside. I’ll have to see it again.
“I thought it was disappointing because if you look at what Bobby [Shuttleworth]’s had to do tonight, he hasn’t had to make really a lot of big saves. Against Portland, he had to come up when we needed him at times. I don’t really think that tonight. Tonight sitting on the bench, I was a little more calm than I was last week.”
In the end, even those last minutes passed with little event, and the 10th Wonderwall of the season was secured. Minnesota had a performance that, barring the weirdness of New York’s goal, was perhaps one of their most complete wins of the year, with Rodríguez’s brace the first headline.
“Not only his goals, because goals sometimes can mislead you into thinking somebody’s had a really good performance, but tonight I thought he worked really really hard, got all the stuff, looked dangerous,” Heath said. “His closing down from the front, him and Darwin, I thought were the catalyst for everything we did behind it.”
“It’s always going to be important,” Rodríguez said of the brace. “I think you prepare for that: to work, to score goals, to play well so that the team wins. Fortunately, today that happened. That’s why I came, to demonstrate what I’ve done throughout my career. So, this is just beginning. It’s just about working and having confidence.”
With two games each at home and on the road to close the season, United have already passed their total wins from last season with their eleventh, and have now matched 2017’s point total with 36. Whatever comes next could provide continued optimism for both this season’s close and what is to come in 2019.