MNUFC faced a tough task today as they squared off with a New York Red Bulls team that won three out of their last four road contests across all competitions. After playing against Houston just three days prior, the Loons again faced depth issues as they were without the likes of Joe Greenspan and Sam Cronin who both picked up injuries midweek. The team’s defensive corps has been hit the hardest as of late as three of the team’s top center backs were unable to play today. The Red Bulls took full advantage of Minnesota’s makeshift backline as they cruised to an almost effortless 3-0 victory on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Minnesota United lined up in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation on Saturday but there were plenty of interesting roster decisions made by gaffer Adrian Heath. With such a depleted team, the Loons opted to use a backline that featured Ismaila Jome at left back with Brent Kallman and newly-signed Michael Boxall as the centerbacks with Jerome Thiesson out wide. In the midfield, Collin Martin drew his first MLS start of the season with Cronin sidelined. Another recent signee made his debut in the attacking corps as Sam Nicholson got the start as the team’s left attacking midfielder.
The Red Bulls were able to strike early just before the fifteen-minute mark as Daniel Royer was allowed to dribble into space unmarked and uncorked a long-range effort that easily beat Bobby Shuttleworth. The Austrian-born attacking midfielder’s goal was his eighth of the year, and it pushed his goal-scoring streak to three straight games. This particular goal was eerily similar to Kekuta Manneh’s strike on July 4th when Minnesota’s backline seemed uninterested in trying to mark or impede a run from just a bit outside of the box.
The Loons came close to equalizing about ten minutes later after a fantastic individual effort from Jerome Thiesson. The Swiss fullback put a nice fake on a Red Bulls defender and slipped into space in the box. He then tried to put a cross into the back post which was headed by New York midfielder Felipe, who headed the ball at his own keeper, forcing a quick reaction save. The home team showed considerably more offensive firepower in the opening half-hour than they displayed during the entire 90 minutes against the Dynamo earlier this week.
Minnesota United turned up the pressure late in the first half but their unthreatening shots only managed to provide some catching practice for Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles. The Loons ended up having one fantastic chance with just under five minutes remaining in the half when Kevin Molino hit a perfectly-weighted cross from out wide. Molino’s ball tantalizingly floated to the back post and found the head of Miguel Ibarra but Batman was unable to turn it on frame.
The pendulum of momentum swung back to the Red Bulls in the closing moments after the Ibarra miss as the visitors forced two tough saves out of Bobby Shuttleworth. The Loons keeper made a fantastic kick save on Daniel Royer and single-handedly kept the visitor’s lead to one goal. The two sides eventually went into the half with New York holding a one goal lead.
If Minnesota United’s defensive depth was razor-thin before this game, I’m struggling to find the words to describe how depleted it became in the second half. Brent Kallman picked up a suspect yellow card for a tackle on Felipe, which means that the Minnesota native will miss the team’s game next Saturday. To almost literally add insult to injury, Kallman had to be substituted around the 60th minute due to an injury. Justin Davis came in to replace Kallman and Adrian Heath opted to take Sam Nicholson off for Abu Danladi around the same time. Nicholson struggled to make an impact on his debut but nobody else in the attacking corps had covered themselves in glory in the first hour either.
Everything went downhill for Minnesota just after the hour mark as Miguel Ibarra was played into space and it looked as though he was hooked down in the box by Michael Murillo. The referee decided not to call a penalty, and the Red Bulls counter-attack immediately marched down the field and scored. Bradley Wright-Phillips, as he’s done on a regular basis since joining the league, got on the end of a long ball and unleashed a shot when he was one-on-one with Bobby Shuttleworth. Wright-Phillips’ effort wasn’t exactly placed perfectly but he hit it hard enough that it hit off of Shuttleworth and trickled in. The Loons were now staring a two-goal deficit in the face with just over 20 minutes to play. Given the fact that the home team hasn’t scored since Dwight Eisenhower was president, you can probably guess how things ended up.
If you guessed that they would concede one more time before ultimately losing without scoring, you were right on the money. The Loons had a golden opportunity to claw a goal back when Miguel Ibarra played a clever ball to Kevin Molino but the Trinidadian international’s shot swerved wide of the target.
The Red Bulls maintained a nice spell of possession around the 90th minute and effortlessly passed the ball in and around Minnesota’s box. Sacha Kljestan slipped a through ball to Alex Muyl who deftly ripped a shot into the top corner and past the keeper. Given the depleted backline, it’s not surprising that Minnesota conceded three times but the marking in this game was just abhorrent.
The good news for Minnesota United is that they’re welcoming the worst team in the league to TCF Bank Stadium next week. D.C. United will make the trek out west to take part in a match between the bottom two sides in MLS. A match against D.C. United is precisely what the Loons need to snap their losing streak but given their recent form, their upcoming game is far from a gimme.