It was already set to be an unprecedented night at Allianz Field.
The first of six matches for Minnesota United in phase one of MLS’ return to play, the Loons’ first home match since their playoff defeat to LA Galaxy back in October, and the first “closed-door” match in Allianz’s short history.
As expected, nothing was normal regarding the game’s atmosphere, even with the piped in chants of the Wonderwall being heard, rather faintly, via the stadium’s P.A. system.
“It’s definitely a new experience,” said Chase Gasper. “We got a taste of it down in Orlando, but to come back to our home, Allianz, and not have the fans here. It’s not what we’re used to and we definitely miss the fans.”
What was unexpected, however, was the play on the field mirroring that same awkwardness. But awkward is really the only way to describe Minnesota’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Sporting Kansas City Friday evening.
The game’s three total goals came from two own goals and another unusual sequence, and Minnesota just never seemed to be able to get on the front foot and finish a chance.
“I’m not going to use the fact that there were no fans here as an excuse,” said head coach Adrian Heath. “I thought we paid them too much respect at the beginning of the game. When I look at the amount of balls we put in the box, not making Melia make a big time save was a bit disappointing.”
Sporting opened up the scoring in the 12th minute via a rare miscue from the Minnesota backline. Gadi Kinda was given space to work out wide and sent a curling ball in, which appeared to deflect off the foot of an unmarked Roger Espinoza and passed a diving Greg Ranjitsingh. Originally, Espinoza was given the goal off a presumed deflection, but further review determined no contact was made and Kinda was credited with the score.
“I’ll have to have another look at it,” said Heath. “It looked soft from our position on the bench. I don’t think we had enough pressure on the ball.”
Right about the same time Ethan Finlay’s effort towards goal deflected off Kansas City’s Jaylin Lindsey for an own goal equalizer in the 34th minute, an off the field announcement took some Minnesota fans’ attention away from the game.
Boca Juniors’ official Twitter account tweeted that longtime United target Emanuel Reynoso will be continuing his career in Minnesota.
The announcement marks the end of a long road for Heath, technical director Mark Watson, and everyone involved with bringing the Argentinian midfielder to the Loons, as negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing for the better part of a year.
According to Heath, though, Reynoso still needs travel to Minnesota and sign the dotted line.
“We’re hoping to get him in,” said Heath. “The kid wants to come. We want him. Everything has been agreed. But, nothing has been officially signed yet.”
Reynoso will in all likelihood sign a Designated Player contract and become the team’s new starting No. 10 (central attacking midfielder) once he clears all necessary protocols and can join the club.
On the pitch, a more active start to the 2nd half for Minnesota brought four set-piece opportunities (two corner-kicks and two free kicks) in the first seven minutes but left nothing to show for their effort.
The next Sporting KC attacking sequence led to the game’s second own-goal, and KC’s Johnny Russell sent a low-cross into the box, which Boxall attempted to clear but ended up putting the ball in the back of the Loons’ net to give the visitors a 2-1 advantage in the 55th minute.
“I can’t fault him for that,” said Ranjitsingh of Boxall’s deflection. “He was obviously put in a tough position there.”
Despite multiple opportunities to knot the game, including a dangerous chip cross from Finlay right in front of goal that found nobody on the other end and a whiffed backheel from Raheem Edwards to waste a crisp low cross from Robin Lod, the Loons were unable to find that finishing touch to salvage a result.
“When you’re [playing a team who’s] on the road, the last thing that you need to do is give teams some importance and give them some belief that they can get something from the game,” said Heath. “And that’s what we did.”
Minnesota’s next game is Saturday, August 29th, at FC Dallas.