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Recap: Finlay’s brace guides Loons past Lions for first victory

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The referee wasn’t the best, but Minnesota United was far better.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps Orlando City should have seen it coming...

Wonderwall was echoing throughout the Lions stadium during prematch warmups, accidental foreshadowing for Minnesota United’s second game of the 2018 Major League Soccer season. Ethan Finlay’s brace led the Loons past a difficult road environment and some questionable refereeing to scoop up three well-earned points.

Minnesota’s lineup was nearly unchaged from the seasong opening loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 remained intact, but forward Christian Ramirez got the start up top after Abu Danladi (currently injured) began the opener.

The Loons controlled possession early, but didn’t have much in the way of chances to show for it. A long and accurate throw from Matt Lampson put Sam Nicholson off to the races, but his eventual cross was deflected away.

Minnesota found an early breakthrough in the 12th minute by way of Ethan Finlay, who had struggled with form through the preseason. A neatly slotted ball from Kevin Molino, playing against his former team, put Finlay through the back line with only goalkeeper Joe Bendik to beat.

Former NASL Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho was stretchered off a few minutes before the half-hour mark, bring rookie and Wisconsin Badgers-product Chris Mueller into the game. United’s attack continued to stay hot with Nicholson, Molino, and Finlay all keeping the pressure on.

The Loons found themselves on the wrong end of Video Assistant Referee a bit before half time. Finlay committed a foul just outside of his own 18-yard box, but it was ruled to be a penalty on review. Yoshimar Yotún converted the chance, equalizing for the hosts.

The second half got off to a chaotic and painful start. Lampson was called into action less than a minute into the final 45 and Justin Meram came very close to giving the Lions the lead. In a scary sequence, Kevin Molino pulled up and immediately grabbed his left knee on a no contact injury and became the second player stretchered off.

An open game continued with some chippiness added on the side. Solid tackles from Michael Boxall and Tyrone Mears earned a little bit of chatter, but nothing major erupted. Sam Nicholson, who put on a speed show despite hamstring discomfort, departed for Miguel Ibarra after the hour mark. Mason Toye, United’s first SuperDraft selection, made his MLS debut coming on for Christian Ramirez in the 72nd minute.

Toye would have his part in changing the course of the game around the 80-minute mark. He cleanly flicked the ball to a surging Jerome Thiesson, who cleanly crossed it for Finlay to give the Loons their second lead of the night.

The game was then blasted all the way open. End-to-end action brought chaos to the Minnesota penalty area, but also saw Toye get a couple chances at a debut goal. His last chance was thwarted by an absolutely hideous non-penalty call that saw him booked for a dive.

Manager Adrian Heath spoke to sideline commentator Jamie Watson after the game. “We needed it,” he said.

The Loons bring the show back to TCF Bank Stadium for the home opener on Saturday at 1pm against the Chicago Fire.