Minnesota United traveled to the Windy City in a Rivalry Week clash with the Chicago Fire hoping for the best. The Fire, a completely rejuvenated side from last year’s abysmal season, entered the match near the top of the league while the Loons sat at the bottom. In front of more than 300 traveling supporters, Minnesota United took all three points in their first-ever road victory in Major League Soccer.
In a rare occurrence for the Loons, manager Adrian Heath made no changes to the starting eleven. Forward Christian Ramirez was not part of the matchday squad, and captain Francisco Calvo, who normally plays centerback, played out on the left. Rookie Abu Danladi played as the lone striker.
The match began in a fashion that is sadly familiar to Minnesota fans: Chicago holding early possession while United looked satisfied with allowing that. Nothing terribly threatening came from the first ten minutes on either side, but some chaos and desperate clearances gave Chicago an unnecessary opportunity just after the clock hit double digits.
Nemanja Nikolic gave the Fire the first real chance of the game, but his botched shot went across the goal instead of into it. Luis Solignac tried to provide a spark with a dangerous pass to a speedy Nikolic, but Bobby Shuttleworth was able to get low and keep the ball out. Dax McCarty decided to have a go at the goal a couple minutes later in the 21st minute, but his curving effort sailed over the bar. New arrival Ethan Finlay did his part to win a corner for the Loons on the other end, but Minnesota United continued their set-piece impotence with a poor service from Sam Nicholson.
Injury struck again for midfielder Sam Cronin, who was replaced by veteran Collen Warner a few minutes after the half-hour mark. Things looked up for the Loons immediately after. Kevin Molino gave Ethan Finlay a ball to chase down the right side, and the Minnesotan set Abu Danladi up with a wide open net. The rookie made no mistake, rocketing the ball into the back of the net.
Just a couple of minutes before halftime, Sam Nicholson and Finlay traded crosses through Chicago’s penalty area, but no one was able to get a shot off. The Loons weren’t done with their first half production. Fullback Jerome Thiesson made his attacking presence known, sending an inch-perfect pass that only required Danladi to stick his leg out.
Danladi came out ready to keep going in the second 45, but was whistled for offside seconds after the half began. Minnesota regressed to the way they began the first half, facing an onslaught of Fire passes. Things didn’t look too good for the Loons when Danladi went down with an upper-leg injury around the 53rd minute, but the rookie jogged off the field and was able to continue.
The Fire continued to attack, but a combination of solid tackles and tidy clearances kept the hosts at bay. Sam Nicholson began to up his production as the game passed the hour mark, sending a curling effort just wide and offering up a dangerous cross. Collen Warner took his own shot at the goal after a lovely tackle, but it sailed over.
Abu Danladi had a fair shot at a hat trick when Ethan Finlay slipped the ball between defenders, but his attempt was nowhere near the frame. Sam Nicholson’s night came to an end in the 75th minute when Miguel Ibarra was brought on to see out the game. That task became a little more difficult when David Accam pulled one back for the Fire minutes later by bending a one-on-one shot around keeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Accam tried to make things level in the 85th minute with a mazy run through the box, but he lost possession among a throng of Minnesota defenders. Adrian Heath used his last substitution to lock things down for the rest of the game, replacing Kevin Molino with defender Jermaine Taylor.
Though his team was bunkering down for the four minutes of stoppage time, Francisco Calvo put a cross just ahead of a sprinting Ethan Finlay. Abu Danladi almost had another chance at a hat trick, but Fire keeper Matt Lampson was quick to the edge of his area. The Loons were able to hold on for the remainder of the match thanks to some competitive edge from Finlay.
“This is for all of [the supporters],” said manager Adrian Heath in a postmatch sideline interview.