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Sound Defense and Timely Offense Power Loons to Victory Over Portland

Despite scoring an own goal and allowing a penalty, the Loons did enough to vanquish the Timbers Wednesday night.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota United was able to secure its fifth victory of the season tonight, snapping a three-game losing streak across all competitions. After failing to tally a goal in almost a month, Adrian Heath’s boys found a way to best a Timbers side that sat at third in the Western Conference prior to tonight’s tilt.

Tonight’s result did not come easy for the Loons as the Timbers fought back valiantly after going down by a goal within the first ten minutes of the game. Both sides experienced some fluky plays, and when it was all said and done, three out of the five goals came as own goals or from the penalty spot.

That’s not to say that United were not deserving winners — they certainly were. After getting demolished at the hands of this Timbers team in their MLS debut, MNUFC came out strong and played an incredibly sound defensive game.

Minnesota United rolled out the exact same lineup that lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The Loons welcomed the Portland Timbers to TCF Bank Stadium after getting shellacked by the Timbers 5-1 on the road in the team’s MLS debut. This particular lineup trotted out by the Loons seems to be the preferred lineup with Marc Burch out and potential reinforcements not able to join the team until the July transfer window.

Things started out uncharacteristically well for the Loons as they were able to force Portland into taking a few silly fouls and eventually a couple of corner kicks. MNUFC were able to take the lead in the seventh minute when Sam Cronin controlled the ball after a blocked corner kick. Cronin crossed the ball into the box and Portland defender Amobi Okugo put it into the net for an own goal. The early goal marked the first time that the Loons have been able to score in the first 15 minutes of a game, which is encouraging as the team has been notoriously slow-starting at times this season. After managing just one shot on target last time out, MNUFC had three in the opening quarter-hour of Wednesday’s tilt.

Minnesota United was able to play a defensively sound game for most of the first half but another momentary lapse in concentration cost them again. Loons backstop Bobby Shuttleworth came out to try and field a bouncing ball but slammed into Diego Valeri in the box and the referee rightfully awarded a penalty. Valeri calmly slotted the ball into the net from the spot, which tied the game at one apiece in the 37th minute. Prior to the penalty, the visiting team had just one shot on target.

The teams went into halftime tied at 1-1. Minnesota United played a defensively responsible half and held the Timbers attackers at bay but unfortunately, Shuttleworth’s error let Portland back into the game. Portland’s two shots on target in the first half both came from a great distance away from the Loons box. Loons manager Adrian Heath said at the half that the team played excellently and were by far the better team but needed to close things out with a win.

The second half started off with a bang as both teams found the back of the next within the first five minutes. The Loons were able to take a 2-1 lead just three minutes into the half as Christian Ramirez was played into space by Kevin Molino. The ball weirdly bounced up into the air but Ramirez got a touch on the ball and dinked it over Timbers keeper Jeff Attinella for a fantastic goal. The Timbers were able to answer back immediately on the next time down as their left back Vytas played a ball into the box which was turned into the Minnesota net accidentally by Francisco Calvo.

After Miguel Ibarra nearly scored for Minnesota on a tough-angled chance, the Loons were able to take the lead in the 65th minute after Jeff Attinella misplayed a ball that was crossed in by Jerome Thiesson. Attinella tried to punch the ball away but ended up spilling the ball out directly to Abu Danladi who calmly slotted it into the back of the net. Danladi showed great soccer IQ as he put himself in the perfect spot to capitalize on the mistake.

Things took an interesting turn in the 69th minute as referee Ted Unkel issued red cards to both Abu Danladi and Sebastian Blanco after the two got tangled up in midfield. The two attackers got twisted together and Blanco ended up kicking Danladi in the midsection. Had Danladi kept his cool, the Loons might have been able to play the rest of the game up a man but the Loons forward retaliated by kicking right back. Both sides were forced to push on with just ten men for the final 20 minutes.

Danladi’s red card was particularly disappointing because the team will now have to play without him against Vancouver on Saturday. Johan Venegas is currently being bothered by a back injury, and Danladi’s absence will test the team’s already thin depth.

With the game hanging in the balance and just 20 minutes left, the Loons knew that Portland would be pressing hard in order to find a late equalizer, and were able to get plenty of defenders behind the ball at all times. This frustrated the Timbers attack, and MNUFC nursed their one-goal lead with a handful of timely blocks in the box.

Portland ended up having one last chance in the 88th minute when Dairon Asprilla shot a ball from just outside the box but it was hit directly at Bobby Shuttleworth. Minnesota gaffer Adrian Heath deserves plenty of credit for helping close the game out, as he made two substitutions after the 89th minute which wasted just enough time for the Loons to cruise to victory.

This win will undoubtedly be sweet for the team after they lost in such a spectacular fashion when these two teams first met in March. Next up for Minnesota United is another home game, this time against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.