It’s not easy winning on the road in MLS, especially for an expansion side. So far this season, there are just three teams that have more wins than losses on the road. MNUFC was one of four teams that were winless on the road going into Thursday night, and the team did little to change that as they were defeated easily by a superior New York City FC squad by a margin of 3-1.
Despite taking an early lead and performing well for the first 45 minutes, the Loons absolutely flatlined in the second half, showing little effort and no attacking prowess. The visiting team managed just one shot on target in the second half, which was particularly disappointing as NYCFC’s backup keeper looked shaky early.
Minnesota’s Jekyll-and-Hyde home and road form continues to frustrate because the team has shown that they can compete with any squad in the league when they’re on their “A” game.
Minnesota United fielded a lineup with many of their regulars but were without Brent Kallman and Abu Danladi, who both picked up injuries over the course of the last week. Kallman had previously started every regular season game since early March, so backup center back Jermaine Taylor had big shoes to fill, and he admittedly filled in well. Danladi’s absence made way for Johan Venegas to make his second consecutive start as the secondary striker/attacking midfielder. A lack of depth continues to plague MNUFC, as they’ve been fielding short-handed lineups for most of the past month or so.
Minnesota United got off to a dream start in the Bronx tonight, scoring just before the ten-minute mark. Johan Venegas took a shot from quite a ways out that NYCFC keeper Eirik Johansen bobbled right into the path of Christian Ramirez. Ramirez slotted the ball into the net and his 10th goal of the season gave MNUFC an early 1-0 lead. Johansen was making just his second MLS start tonight, as he was forced into action due to their usual starter Sean Johnson being in camp with the USMNT. The ball was certainly hit hard by Venegas but it was hit right at the NYCFC keeper and he should have done better. Had Johnson been between the sticks, the Loons probably would not have scored in such a way but with the team’s road struggles this season there’s no such thing as an ugly goal.
The Loons seemed content with sitting back and playing a defensively sound game after scoring early. They nearly allowed an equalizer in the 21st minute when NYCFC attacking midfielder Jack Harrison was able to get into the box via a nice stop-and-start sequence. Harrison cut in and unleashed a shot from a good angle but Bobby Shuttleworth was fully up to the task as he made a fantastic save near post to deny the home team. However, this wouldn’t be the last we heard from Harrison.
NYCFC eventually broke through with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half with a goal from a particularly unlikely source. Alexander Callens, the home team’s starting center back, ended up joining the attack and he equalized the game off of a feed from left back Ben Sweat. Callens and Sweat played a clever give-and-go, and Callens slotted it home past an advancing Shuttleworth. The goal was the center back’s second career MLS goal, and his second tally in the past four games.
Things got particularly heated in the dying embers of the first half when both Johan Venegas and David Villa had been on the wrong end of a couple of challenges. Villa was unhappy with how long it took Venegas to get off the ground after a challenge, and the two players started arguing with each other and the two eventually got in each other’s faces and had to be separated. Both players were shown yellow cards for their part in the matter.
The two sides went into the half tied at once apiece, and despite conceding late, the Loons played an adequate first half. Outside of one nice passing sequence that led to a goal, the Loons defended admirably and a solid job closing down on attackers and cutting down passing lanes. They also did a great job defending corners and set pieces, which is something the team has struggled with since joining MLS. NYCFC managed to take nine shots but just two of them ended up on target. MNUFC also had a couple of decent counter-attacks as well, which was also encouraging given how much of the ball NYCFC had in the first half (the home team finished with over 60 percent possession in the first 45).
NYCFC wasted little time on their quest to pull ahead as they took a 2-1 lead within the first eight minutes of the second half thanks to a perfectly executed attack. Costa Rican international Rodney Wallace was played into space on the break and hit an inch-perfect cross that sailed to the back post and found the head of Jack Harrison. The 20-year-old Englishman ran onto the ball and hit it perfectly past Bobby Shuttleworth. The goal was Harrison’s eighth of the season and his second in two games as he found the scoresheet against the Red Bulls on Saturday.
The home team showed no signs of slowing down after their go-ahead goal, and it was just a matter of time before New York City scored again. Enter David Villa. The former Barcelona forward made an excellent run, nutmegged Jerome Thiesson, and made his way into the box. Villa was challenged by Francisco Calvo but remained calm and hit a curling shot with his left-foot that went into the upper corner of the net. Villa’s strike put NYCFC up by two goals and effectively clinched a winning result. The goal was truly a world-class strike from one of the best players of this generation. My quick blurb about it doesn’t do the goal justice, so be sure to watch the GIF above this paragraph. The goal is Villa’s 52nd in his 79 game MLS career. Not bad for a 35-year-old.
Despite being down two goals, MNUFC showed almost no urgency for the final 30 minutes of tonight’s game. New York City was able to shift into cruise control and coast to a deserved two-goal victory. Minnesota United had one legitimate scoring chance in the final thirty minutes when Christian Ramirez was played into space and slotted it past Johansen but was judged to be offside.
When it was all said and done, the Loons suffered their seventh road loss in nine games this season.
Coming into this game, it was obvious that Minnesota United was deservedly an underdog. NYCFC has one of the best attacking units in all of MLS, and winning on the road against them was always going to be a challenge. What I didn’t expect, however, was Minnesota United’s willingness to roll over after going down early in the second half. They were gifted a goal early and looked up to the task in the first half but showed little fight or desire upon the second half whistle. Thankfully, the Loons play their next five MLS games at home, where they have been a much better team.
Eventually, this team will need to figure out the magic formula required for them to consistently get points on the road. Eight of their last 11 games this season will be away from TCF Bank Stadium, and if the Loons want to push for a playoff spot they will need to improve their road form drastically later this season.
Next up for Minnesota United is a home game against the Columbus Crew on the 4th of July.