For 70 minutes, Friday night’s game at BMO Field in Toronto was set up to be a great statement game for Minnesota United FC. They had weathered a storm of a first half to keep the deficit at one goal, and had come back to take the lead through yet another Darwin Quintero penalty after having the best of the second half’s play.
The final 20 minutes go out to those who say this team hasn’t changed at all, and to the warning signs that Toronto FC had given in a dominant first half. Toronto scored two goals in a two-minute stretch, and both Jan Greguš and Francisco Calvo were sent off as United collapsed to a 4-3 defeat that had the chance to be so much more.
The eyes first go to the required changes in Adrian Heath’s starting lineup. Ike Opara was unavailable after his injury late in United’s home opener against New York City FC, which give Brent Kallman the start at the back. Rasmus Schüller, unimpressive so far in 2019, was preferred to Romario Ibarra.
The earliest portions of this game offered as much reassurance that United have moved past the frenetic pace of last Saturday’s crazy affair as any soccer they’ve played this year. They were quick to the ball in midfield, and held the ball in possession more confidently than this selection of players had yet to do.
To top this, their 1-0 lead was completely deserved if a little fluky. Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono misjudged the bounce of a long Greguš pass, and Darwin Quintero looped a header over his outstretched arms at the edge of the 18-yard box to easily finish for Minnesota’s lead.
Optimism was alive and well.
Unfortunately, a trend that is familiar to viewers of this team in 2018 reared its ugly head for the second straight week. Alejandro Pozuelo’s first goal was a magnificent solo effort on the counterattack, beating Michael Boxall one-on-one and curling a perfect shot past Vito Mannone. It was a goal that you expect from a player that has been a major catalyst to Toronto’s attack since his arrival.
His second, just two minutes later, was much more the problem. Minnesota tended to give up goals in pairs in 2018, and with New York City’s pair to take the lead early in the first half, a second Pozuelo goal had the stink of old habits to it.
A rare mistake from Romain Métanire gave Toronto the chance to break, and Boxall gave Pozuelo all the space he could possibly want to crush a Justin Morrow cross into the back of the net. This was the goal that was just too easy for Toronto, and it became a trend as the first half’s final minutes continued.
Pozuelo very well could have had a hat-trick in eight minutes of game time but for a great Mannone save. Jozy Altidore missed a sitter from three yards out. Michael Bradley had an open header before Pozuelo’s first. Nick de Leon had all the space and time in the world to create these opportunities on Toronto’s right side, indicative of a problem at the left of Minnesota’s defense.
Francisco Calvo looked like the Calvo that appeared to be on his way out of the team in April of last season. He was lost on defense, missing his marks in the box, and was directly at fault for goals and opportunities for Toronto on several occasions. That left side of the defense, not for the first time, looked like exactly the area to attack for any team playing against Minnesota.
Minnesota was lucky to reach halftime at 2-1, but they did so and took good advantage of their reprieve. Quintero had a header right at Bono within a minute of the game’s restart, and the Loons found their footing going forward as well as they have all season.
A highlight matchup for the game from the pregame analysis was that of Altidore and Boxall. In truth, the battle between Ángelo Rodríguez and Laurent Ciman was also quite a treat to watch, and it was Rodríguez who won his battle decisively in the 57th minute.
Once again, it was a sizzling cross from Métanire that opened the attacking door for Minnesota. Rodríguez created just enough space from Ciman to bang a header into the back of the net, and the Loons were level again and had the momentum. It continues to look like Rodríguez has found his footing and place in this Minnesota team, and the goals may now be starting to come.
Indeed, Minnesota were now the ones who had the bevy of chances. Kallman missed a free header before Rodríguez’s goal, and had a second chance that Bono just barely beat him to. Bono made great saves on a free kick from Greguš and a smoking volley from Ozzie Alonso to limit the damage.
It was Rodríguez once again who made the decisive play to get Minnesota the lead. He received a pass at the top of the eighteen yard box with his back to goal, and after making one dribble was clearly taken down by Chris Mavinga, with the referee making no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Quintero converted his fourth penalty in four tries this season, and everything looked like perfection for Minnesota with twenty minutes to go. The problem seems to be that they remain Minnesota United, new players or not. It took Toronto just six minutes to tie the game, and eight to take the lead.
It was Justin Hamilton on both occasions, a seemingly inspired sub from Greg Vanney. The guilty parties for Minnesota will likely not surprise. Calvo and Boxall were caught completely out of position by a through-ball from Jonathan Osorio, and Hamilton made no mistake with the finish.
The second was much more calamitous than even that. Mannone came to the edge of the box to attempt to intercept a pass, but was miles away from it as Altidore looped it over his head and left him caught out of position. Boxall was back to clear off the line, but inexplicably let the ball bounce and Hamilton stabbed it past his outstretched head.
For his part, Calvo, who should have been back to cover Altidore’s initial pass, was jogging back as the ball looped over his head and was completely out of the picture as the goal was scored. His positioning had once again left Minnesota vulnerable, and the veteran United States striker took advantage of the errors to set up Hamilton’s success.
It would have been bad enough to leave Toronto with just the two occasions of back-to-back goals to decide the game, and even in that state, the game was still in the balance. Heath’s subs — which inexplicably took until the 80th minute after the game was gone — were attacking, with Abu Danladi and the first appearance in 13 months for Kevin Molino after an ACL tear the choices.
As the game drew towards its final minutes, Toronto had firm control of possession and received the benefit of (likely correct) calls from the referee to maintain it, and after the game had been lost, Minnesota’s heads were lost too.
Greguš was incensed after not receiving a call, and his next tackle was done with his anger obvious and misguided. He went in on Pozuelo with his legs scissored and studs up, and his straight red card was entirely merited. It was the kind of personal choice that was impossible to justify, and one which leaves Minnesota hamstrung for selection for Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
As previously stated, it could have just ended at that, but then Calvo too completely lost his head. He was carded for dissenting with the referee’s opinion in the 90th minute, and another idiotic tackle got him his second yellow and marching orders in less than sixty seconds.
From a winning position and a place of momentum in the 70th minute, Minnesota allowed two goals with pathetic defense, and added the ignominy of finishing with nine men. It was a remarkable collapse, and the kind that Heath’s regime cannot afford to survive in its decisive third year.
For all the talk about the changes of the third year, the most stark statistic to show the weakness this team has showed these past two weeks is that after allowing seven goals in two matches, Minnesota is on pace to allow 70-plus goals for a third straight MLS season, a staggering record of pathetic defense.
Minnesota welcomes a Galaxy team that comfortably beat them in Los Angeles at the midweek, and a DC United team that has looked like one of the pacesetters in the Eastern Conference on Sunday. If they fail to get results at Allianz Field with a result like this in the rear-view mirror, the questions about Heath are going to get very loud, very quickly.