Late season MLS, you exciting, heartbreaking wonder. Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City entered their match at TCF Bank Stadium with dramatically different playoff hopes.
Minnesota United had barely a sliver of hope for playoff berth. They needed every point available to them, and still would have to rely on some help from others, including Colorado Rapids as they took on FC Dallas (a result by FC Dallas would knock out MNUFC from playoff contention).
Sporting KC entered the game needing 2 points in all their remaining contests to lock in a spot in the playoffs, sitting at second in the Western Conference.
The match began fairly slow for both teams, as neither team really dominated possession in the first few minutes. The teams each had a few unsuccessful long balls, but nothing dangerous on either end. Sporting started to employ a heavy press, and as a result the ball remained in MNUFC’s own end for the first 10 minutes of the first half.
Neither team had many real chances in the first few minutes, until Saad Abdul-Salaam sent a shot into downtown Minneapolis in the eighth minute, after a good buildup by the Sporting attack. The next few minutes would be marked by a few Sporting runs up the wing, but the Loon defense cleared out all crosses as they came into their box.
MNUFC’s first real attack came in the 15th minute when Abu Danladi slotted a pass to Christian Ramirez in the box, tapping it back to Ibson who sent his shot into the Supporters’ Section. MNUFC would win their first corner in the 21st minute, but the corner passed through the box without a Loon anywhere near it. The Loons began a high press of their own and were able to force a Sporting turnover that lead to a Jerome Thiesson cross, but this too was cleared out without any danger to Sporting.
Adrian Heath got in a bit of a scuffle on the sideline in the 25th minute, as Ethan Finlay was pushed out of bounds. His energy and enthusiasm appeared to rub off on his players, as the Loons would go on to control the game for the next ten minutes.
Continued high pressure from MNUFC forced a turnover outside of Sporting’s box that led to a Miguel Ibarra shot on goal that was touched over the bar by Sporting GK Tim Melia, the first shot on goal for either team coming in the 34th minute. The first half of play to this point had been mostly defined by good play by Danladi and Colin Martin in the attacking midfield.
Whatever momentum MNUFC had built up with the high pressure on defense went away as the referee blew the whistle to stop play very late on a Joseph Greenspan tackle of Latif Blessing. A miscommunication between Greenspan and Martin led to Sporting free kick just outside of the 18 yard box, that Diego Rubio curled just over the bar. If the shot had been on frame, the Loons would have been in a bit of trouble as Bobby Shuttleworth appeared to be screened and had a very late jump on the ball.
Play remained in MNUFC’s third of the field for the rest of the half, ending with a goal by Rubio in the 48th minute in which the entire MNUFC defense were calling for offside. The teams would head into halftime with Sporting up 1-0, scoring on their only shot on goal.
Rubio gives SKC a 1-0 lead at the stroke of halftime! pic.twitter.com/H6RvlXnEA3— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 8, 2017
MNUFC came into the second half knowing that their season was on the line, but so too was Sporting’s (a win and SKC would be in). The first 10 minutes of the second half were full of Sporting attacks on net, but also solid Loon defense. A few free kicks and crosses were dealt with easily by the Loons, including a Shuttleworth save on a wide open shot off of a switched field. Thiesson had two good clearances in the 50th and 54th minutes on dribbled attacks by Sporting wingers.
Momentum was very much in Sporting KC’s favor until Melia went down injured after a series of MNUFC corner kicks. Melia was replaced in the 58th minute by Andrew Dykstra, potentially problematic for Sporting considering Melia had played every minute of the season at GK to this point.
MNUFC’s momentum began to wane a bit in the 65th minute, as Saad Abdul-Salaam received a through ball well behind the MNUFC backline, sending a pass in front of the Loons’ net that went without an answer by Sporting. Shortly after this play, news of Colorado Rapids slotting a goal past FC Dallas was shared, keeping MNUFC’s playoff hopes alive.
The ball remained in MNUFC’s attacking end for much of the middle part of the 2nd half, with a few corners and free kicks in dangerous positions for the Loons around the 75th minute.
The Loons, still down, needed goals and Heath made a few offensive-minded changes, including bringing on Brandon Allen for his MNUFC debut. Shortly after the subs (and possibly the FC Dallas news made its way to the field), the Loons offense woke up again. Brent Kallman knocked in a header in the 83rd minute to tie the game at 1.
The next ten minutes were marked by rapid attacks from both sides up and down the field, with both teams getting a few shots off, but none on net. Both teams desperate to knock in the winning goal, were subject to counterattacks and huge swings of momentum.
The momentum would ultimately swing in Sporting’s favor for good. Shortly after the referee announced 7 minutes of stoppage time, Greenspan picked up his second yellow card and MNUFC was forced to finish the match with ten men. By some stroke of luck (or maybe an extremely unlucky patch for Sporting), MNUFC was able to weather a barrage shots (they finished with 20 total shots. 20.) and most of stoppage time taking place in their own box without giving up a goal.
In the end, the match ended in a 1-1 draw, a much worse result for MNUFC, who are now essentially eliminated from the playoff hunt.