The cautious expectations were present for Minnesota United’s first game of the 2018 MLS season, but the quality failed to show in the Loons’ 3-2 road loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. After settling in early, a spotty performance quickly disintegrated into a dismal one as echoes of last season’s United reared their unfortunate heads. A late threat brought on by Kevin Molino put some heat on the hosts, but it wasn’t enough as Minnesota fell by the same score to the same team in consecutive regular season games.
Manager Adrian Heath deployed the Loons in the 4-2-3-1 formation that became the norm last season. Notable starters included goalkeeper Matt Lampson, right back Tyrone Mears, midfielder Rasmus Schuller, and, in a controversial move, forward Abu Danladi, who usurped fan-favorite and USMNT January camp-invitee Christian Ramirez. In a pre-match interview with Fox Sports North sideline commentator Jamie Watson, Heath called the decision “difficult.” Ramirez did notseem to be happy with the decision, appearing on Twitter with a few passive-aggressive remarks after the lineup was announced.
The fellas for the first time in 2018— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) March 4, 2018
4-2-3-1 | #ScarvesUpMN pic.twitter.com/Qvyo4kf6rC
The season kicked off through a haze-filled Avaya Stadium and saw an early defensive miscommunication, but Minnesota were able to enter the attack at times. A cross from Mears deflected off the arm of an Earthquakes player on the edge of the penalty area, but no foul was called and VAR was not brought into play.
Tactically, United relied on getting the ball out to players on the wings, especially Mears and Ethan Finlay on the right side. Finlay created chances, though Danladi had arguably the best one of the first 25 minutes, sprinting into the box only to forget the ball and slip on the damp pitch, getting up a little gingerly. Mears picked up a yellow for attempting to get in the way of a quick San Jose restart.
The game took a turn for the worse before the half-hour mark. Danny Hoesen opened the scorign for the Earthquakes with a curling finish that left the otherwise-solid Lampson without a hope.
What a strike by Hoeson. 1-0 San Jose. pic.twitter.com/0S2LuMRs9i— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) March 4, 2018
One wasn’t enough though, and after a Calvo giveway from the ensuing kickoff, Vako doubled the hosts’ lead with a simple blast off a training-ground-esque opportunity.
Vako makes it ✌️ for @SJEarthquakes. #SJvMIN https://t.co/GwChEBuVmX— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 4, 2018
The misery wasn’t yet done for the Loons. Danladi hobbled off the pitch and promptly fell to the ground, bringing Ramirez into the game. San Jose continued to apply pressure, putting an effort off the bar. More bad news came Minnesota’s way as Ramirez rolled his ankle, going down in obvious pain. The Loons limped their way into the half with a need for significant changes to have a shot at recovery.
After an improved start to the second half that saw some attacking possession and set-pieces for the Loons, Hoesen ran right through the defense to snag a brace.
Lovely move from the Quakes and Hoesen bags his second goal. 3-0 San Jose. pic.twitter.com/SkoYDs0RYA— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) March 4, 2018
After an altogether depressing majority of the second half, Kevin Molino showed a moment of composure to place a loose ball in the left corner of San Jose’s net, providing some consolation for the night.
Kevin Molino! That's one back for @MNUFC. #SJvMIN— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 4, 2018
And then the Loons began to turn the tables. Molino scored another to bring United within striking distance of the Earthquakes lead with an immediate second goal.
Well well well. Molino again. 3-2 now. Loons looking very dangerous here at the end. pic.twitter.com/pTFwabVMMV— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) March 4, 2018
The Loons amped up the attacking effort in the final minutes, but the desperate surge was not enough to produce a dramatic equalizer. Players pushed forward but ultimately the crowd in the box eliminated the possibility of a third goal.
Adrian Heath was blunt in his post-match interview with Watson. “We gave away two stupid goals,” he remarked.
The Loons will travel to Heath’s former club, Orlando City SC, next weekend.