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Loons rally back from a two-goal deficit to salvage a draw against Vancouver

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After putting themselves behind the eight ball early, MNUFC was able to come away with a point on Saturday night.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Minnesota United made things needlessly hard on themselves tonight against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Two momentary lapses in concentration cost the home team dearly as Vancouver jumped out to an early two-goal lead thanks to a penalty and a goal off of a set piece.

The Loons were able to regroup at halftime and eventually equalized the game thanks to goals from Francisco Calvo and Jerome Thiesson. Despite dominating in time of possession for the entire game, the Loons ultimately came up just short of finding the game-winning goal as the two sides played to a 2-2 draw.

Minnesota United lined up tactically in the 4-2-3-1 formation, per usual. There was just one change to the starting eleven that defeated Portland on Wednesday as Johan Venegas was inserted into the lineup in place of Abu Danladi, who was serving a one-game red card suspension. Venegas was deployed as an attacking midfielder/second striker, a position that he excelled at once or twice earlier in the year. Two attacking players were deployed in different positions from Wednesday’s win -- Kevin Molino shifted from central attacking midfielder to a right wing role, and Miguel Ibarra swapped flanks from the right to the left.

Minnesota United started off strong for the second game in a row, out-possessing the Whitecaps by a 70-30 margin in the opening 15 minutes. Despite the early possession lead, things started to feel a bit like Groundhog Day just after the 15th minute when Bobby Shuttleworth clattered Whitecaps forward Brek Shea which gave the visitors an early penalty. Shuttleworth shouldn’t shoulder all the blame this time, however, as right back Kevin Venegas absent-mindedly played an errant back pass which put Shea through on goal. This is the second game in a row that the Loons keeper has conceded a penalty in the first half, and Vancouver midfielder Cristian Techera buried the kick from the spot, putting the visitors up 1-0.

The Loons had a golden opportunity to equalize just seven minutes later when Jerome Thiesson played a ball into the box that ended up on the foot of Kevin Molino. Molino was able to get behind the Whitecaps backline with ease and had a one-on-one with Caps keeper David Ousted who came off his line a bit early. The Trinidadian International had the entire net to shoot at but somehow skittered it just inches wide of the post.

Minnesota United continued to string together prolonged periods of possession and looked significantly more threatening than the visitors throughout the first half. Their midfield passing was particularly solid as they were able to put together a number of sequences that included double-digit quick passes. MNUFC, however, were unable to get anything going in the final third despite pumping the ball into the box on a handful of occasions.

There was a bit of controversy towards the end of the first half as the Loons were denied a penalty on a borderline challenge on Miguel Ibarra in Vancouver’s box. Kevin Molino hit a perfectly weighted ball to the back post where Ibarra looked to be in good position before he was twisted to the ground. Despite the play looking rough at game speed, the referee ruled that there was no foul on the play.

It looked as though the home team would go into the half down by a goal but Vancouver ended up extending their lead to two thanks to a free kick goal. The Loons have been notoriously bad at defending free kicks and set pieces, and this time they allowed Tony Tchani to get a free header which he smashed into the back of the net with ease.

Minnesota United dominated possession in the first half by a 77-23 margin but found themselves down by two goals due to the fact that their offense was unable to create real scoring chances despite dominating on the ball.

The Loons were forced to make a substitution just two minutes into the second half as defender Brent Kallman made way for Jermaine Taylor. Kallman had previously taken a few knocks and the coaching staff eventually decided to take him off. Pioneer Press reporter Andy Greder reported that Kallman was limping before the end of the first half. Hopefully, he will be fine moving forward as the team’s defensive depth is already razor-thin.

After a frustrating first half that was chock-full of mediocre scoring chances, Minnesota United finally got on the board in the 50th minute. Kevin Molino found himself in plenty of space on the left flank and he hit a fantastic ball to the back post where Francisco Calvo was waiting. The Captain headed the ball deftly into the turf, which bounced and beat Ousted near post. The goal was the 24-year-old’s first in MLS.

Not to be outdone by his defensive battery mate, fullback Jerome Thiesson equalized things in the 63rd minute. Thiesson, who’s grown to be a fan favorite over the last couple of months, hit a curling shot from just outside the box ended up beating Ousted near post. The Swiss defender let the emotion pour out after finding the back of the net, flapping his wings akin to an actual loon. His equalizing strike was just his sixth goal in his entire career and his first in a Minnesota United kit.

Vancouver was noticeably reeling at this point and they were extremely lucky not to go down by a goal just five minutes later. Ibson found himself in space and uncorked a fantastic shot that looked destined for the back of the net but ended up smacking the bar and staying out. The home team clearly was not satisfied with just tying the game up and continued to keep their foot firmly on the gas for the rest of the game.

Minnesota United again looked destined to pull ahead with just under five minutes left as recent substitute Bashkim Kadrii’s cross found Kevin Molino at the center of the box. Molino hit a shot on target that looked like it caught David Ousted off-balance but the ball ended up hitting off the Whitecaps keeper’s shin and stayed out.

Despite continued attacking pressure, the Loons were unable to find a game-winning goal, and the game ended as a 2-2 draw. MNUFC looked like a completely different team in the second half, which is encouraging, but they unnecessarily dug a hole for themselves in the first half with two lapses of concentration.

Coming back from a two-goal deficit is nothing to shake a stick at but this result ultimately feels disappointing because Minnesota was clearly the better team for the entire game. They out-possessed Vancouver by almost 3-to-1 and managed to somehow drum up 17 shots. If the Loons are ever able to rid themselves of their momentary lapses in concentration, they could be a force to be reckoned with but over their last two games, they have constantly made things harder on themselves needlessly.

Next up for MNUFC is a road game against NYCFC on Thursday. Their next opponent has won three straight games and is 5-1-2 at home, so Thursday’s game will be a big test for a Minnesota squad that has been rudderless so far this season away from TCF Bank Stadium.