MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.— It was a chance for Minnestoa United to prove that they are a competitive team in their second season, and the Loons delivered. A dominant performance, barely lessened by a few blunders, showcased the best of Minnesota in front of home fans for the first time. Second half goals from Ibson and Sam Nicholson led the way as Minnesota topped Chicago by a 2-1 scoreline for the second time.
Minnesota manager Adrian Heath was forced to make an undesirable change to his starting lineup after attacking midfielder Kevin Molino tore his ACL in last week’s win over Orlando City. Miguel Ibarra was chosen to replace him in the number 10 role. The starting eleven was otherwise unchanged.
There was a strong air of excitement around TCF Bank Stadium at the start of the match as fireworks were shot off and the Supporters Section unveiled the largest tifo in MNUFC history. Long lines and the clear-bag policy bogged down many fans outside the stadium. Some queues did not clear until 10 minutes into the match.
The Loons matched their fans’ energy in the beginning of the match, controlling possession and making easy work of getting into Chicago’s end of the pitch. Finding quality chances was more of an issue, and the Fire looked threatening on the counter. Both Rasmus Schuller and Michael Boxall showed their defensive capabilities with tackles or plays to keep the opposition out of the goal.
Minnesota’s first real opportunity to score came around the 20th minute when Sam Nicholson weaved his way into the box and put a threatening cross right in front of the goal, but a sliding Christian Ramirez couldn’t control the ball. Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez was caught out of his own box when he came well off his line to confront Ethan Finlay. Finlay came down with the rebound, but his cross was deflected out to Ibson, whose shot sailed over the bar.
Aleksandar Katai had the Fire’s best chance of the early portion of the game when his curled effort went just over the goal. Minnesota continued to be the better of the two sides despite some nervy moments. A couple of inaccurate passes gifted Chicago a couple of half-chances but nothing valuable.
Minnesota came out of halftime without losing a beat. Tyrone Mears tried to score from a tight angle but was denied by Sanchez. The Loons continued to be an aerial threat, putting the heat on from corners and crosses. Ibson broke the tie in the 55th minute. Miguel Ibarra sent in a cross to the Brazilian midfielder, who put a shot on frame. It was cleared off the line by Sanchez, but Ibson poked his own rebound in to give the Loons a 1-0 lead, his first goal in MLS.
The lead departed just as quickly as it came. Chicago scored only minutes later, when some poor defense from Ibson led to Elliot Collier burying a rebound as well.
But even the tie was short-lived. A perfect cross from Finlay was perfectly placed for Sam Nicholson, whose rocket of a header put Minnesota back in front with a clinical goal.
Rookie forward Mason Toye, who impressed in his debut against Orlando, was substituted on for Christian Ramirez just after the 80th minute. Fullback Tyrone Mears, who was able to have his way along the flank of the Chicago defense, came off for Marc Burch a few minutes later.
A spell of possession from the Fire just before the 90 minute mark led to a decent shot that was saved by Matt Lampson. Toye picked up an unnecessary yellow card for time wasting in stoppage time when he dribbled past Sanchez to put the ball in the net after being called offside.
Heath was certainly glad that the day ended with three points. “It would’ve been a travesty if we hadn’t won the game,” he said. “It was a step forward for us.”
Ethan Finlay finished the day with an assist, a small reward for a tremendous effort along the right wing. “I came to be part of something special,” he explained. “And today was a special day.”
Goalkeeper Matt Lampson was not called into action often, but he’s glad to keep it that way. He hopes to see the Loons’ new winning streak say intact. “We just have to continue it,” he said. “This is the feeling we need to miss.”
That feeling—Wonderwall floating through TCF Bank Stadium as nearly the entire crowd remains to hold their scarves aloft—shows even more potential to Heath. “This team is capable of competing against most of the teams in the league.”
Minnesota will have a tough test as they hope to extend their streak to three in a row when they travel to face the New York Red Bulls next week. The match will be played during an international break, which means that key defenders like captain Franciso Calvo and Michael Boxall will be absent. Players like Brent Kallman, Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, or even rookie Wyatt Omsberg could be in the starting lineup.
Heath attested to the level of Calvo and Boxall’s play, but isn’t concerned about the next match. “They think like defenders should think. They always fear the worst and they’re always in good spots,” he praised. “We knew this was coming.”