On a scorching evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota United arrived to their home base, TCF Bank Stadium, to once again, defend their ground. The foe tonight was an unfamiliar bunch to most, but not to Captain Francisco Calvo. The squad took on Costa Rican champions, Deportivo Saprissa. Calvo had previously played for Saprissa prior to the 2017 MLS season. The Loons also loaned out winger, Johan Venegas, to Saprissa towards the end of last season so he could not only get minutes, but also regain form. His loan does expire at the end of his MLS contract though, so unless the club were to extend his current contract, he could leave on a free anywhere at the end of the season. The Loons came into the match tonight after a tough road loss in Houston last Saturday night. The United midfield was outworked all game and that was accompanied by a defensive lapse that led to a single shot on goal all game for Minnesota. The Loons fell 3-0 in Houston courtesy of a Phillipe Senderos brace, and looked lifeless most of the match.
Adrian Heath rolled out with the new 3-5-2 formation once again tonight, but with a near completely different XI than in previous matches. Collin Martin and Francisco Calvo were the only regulars who started the match.
An addition that prompted a smile on my face was that of Cameroonian MLS rookie, Bertrand Owundi E’ko. The 23 year old arrived in Minnesota this past Spring, but had never made the XI and had made one appearance on the bench all season. That one appearance came against the NYRB in a game where the Loons fell 3-0 and he was an unused substitute. Along with Owundi, Maximiano, Mason Toye and Francisco Calvo all had something to prove tonight. With the recent addition of Designated Player, Angelo Rodriguez, Mason Toye’s minutes are surely likely to go down. Francisco Calvo has had a tough start to hiss 2018 season and the critics have been hounding on him to improve his game; after a stint with the Costa Rican National Team in The World Cup, he returns with vengeance and grit on his teeth. Maximiano is still recovering from an ACL injury in June of 2017, but he is starting to return to his playing capability and this was going to be a huge opportunity for the young Brazilian. Maximiano is technically the only true “6” on the roster and head coach Adrian Heath still has high hopes for the youngster.
The match kicked off to a high-tempo start, and it was highlighted by an early mistake from Saprissa goalkeeper, Alejandro Gomez. the 29 year old keeper committed a foul through handling the ball outside the box, which gave Minnesota an early attempt to get on the score sheet. The free kick from 18 yards out made it past the wall, but not past Gomez who palmed it away out of bounds. The following corner was met by Owundi who attempted to volley the ball in mid-air, but lost his footing. The early attempt came two minutes into the match, but Minnesota couldn’t make anything of it. After this early attempt, the game started to calm down and each team shared limited amounts of possession in the first 15 minutes or so. In the opening 18 minutes, Minnesota had three corner kicks; this has been a highlight of their season. The Loons are given attempt after attempt and yet they can not seem to capitalize. In the 20th minute, Saprissa landed on the score sheet first after an Owundi back pass was miscalculated. Matt Lampson was not on the same page as his defender and David Ramirez casually slotted the ball home. Owundi was attempting to cover for Francisco Calvo, who misplayed the ball prior to the back pass. A mere five minutes later though, fellow Cameroonian, Frantz Pangop, livened up the stadium by slotting the ball home himself. The winger showed his pace and beat two defenders to cross over the top of the box and shoot. The match was quickly moving to a high-tempo pace once again and the loons were quickly back in the mix of things.
In the 29th minute, 19 year old striker Mason Toye was set loose and he nearly scored what could have been a goal-of-the-season contender for Minnesota united. The young striker did some fancy footwork and slipped past three defenders and nearly chipped goalkeeper Alejandro Gomez on his far post. That play was followed by a hydration break in the 30th minute, and with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees on the field you can understand why. The next 15 minutes fled by like nothing, the action died down and the pace of the game once again slowed. Both teams needed halftime to re -group and adjust for what was to be a hot and competitive second half.
The second half started off with a slow-tempo but moved quickly towards high-tempo soccer. The highlights of the opening minutes of the 2nd half were Mason Toye and Mason Toye. The rookie was showing off his pace on two occasions that nearly led to goals for Minnesota, if he were to put some muscle on his frame and hold his ground on certain occasions he could be a formidable foe for MLS sides to face in years to come. Of course, that will all come with experience. In the 61st minute, Alexi Gomez and Miguel Ibarra checked into the match for Francisco Calvo and Eric Miller. Alexi Gomez and Miguel Ibarra shifted to the wingback positions while Carter Manley shifted inward to Centerback. The shift to a more conservative approach from the Loons defined the majority of their second half as well. In the 76th minute, Collen Warner and Christian Ramirez entered the pitch in place of Collin Martin and Mason Toye. I want to highlight the maturity of Toye’s performance again though, he has a fantastic 75 minutes. Some of the best soccer I have seen out of the 19 year old striker. Frantz Pangop then went on to nearly score a second goal, and secure his brace and a possible game winner. The Cameroonian struck his shot low but Alejandro Gomez collected. The Saprissa keeper had since recovered well from his early blunder and it was plain to see that his confidence was boosted by his performance since. in the 86th minute, Saprissa countered off of a United attack and Carlos Villegas, the substitute, chipped Matt Lampson to put his side up in the dying moments. Owundi and Carter Manley seemed to have been caught out of position, and Villegas got past and nodded home. The aftermath of the goal was an intimidating 10 minutes for both sides, as things began to get chippy. Miguel Ibarra was nearly wrestled to the ground multiple times on a corner, and Saprissa was issued two yellow cards during that scrum. They then began to time-waste by kicking the ball away and/or committing unnecessary tackles and fouls. The Loons had one final chance that came in the form of a Miguel Ibarra cross to Christian Ramirez, but Ramirez couldn't get a head on the ball and the final whistle blew directly after. That was the story she wrote, accompanied by some light rainfall for the last 15 minutes. A fitting setting for a chippy and unwarranted ending at TCF Bank Stadium.
Postgame: Adrian Heath started out his performance by saying “there were some really good performances” and that “we got some minutes for some guys who really needed it”. On an assumption, he was referring to players like Owundi, Omsberg, Toye, Maxi, Heath and Pangop. Heath went on to mention some plays from the game as well as a reaction top a few performances, specifically Mason Toye and Frantz Pangop. “Mason did some nice stuff and I thought Frantz showed some better quality than in previous matches. Frantz showed some flashes of real quality and the bits of combination play between him and Mason at times in the first and second half worked really well.” When asked about Owundi’s performance, Heath noted how he could tell that he was nervous but he stepped up his game after the early blooper. He went on to say how this was his first appearance after being with the club for three months, so this probably meant a lot to him.
When asked about his shift to the 3-5-2 formation, Heath noted that “for the defenders, it’s a work in progress and Miguel hasn't played there for a long time. In the next few weeks, we’ll add a few reinforcements and maybe try to go back to what we originally had. The one good thing is that we now have the opportunity to play this formation and we have both choices.” To end his presser, Heath was asked if this was the most dissapointing 2-1 loss he;s experienced today and the gaffer had a good laugh with that. He expressed that he was upset but extremely proud of his native England for advancing to the FIFA World Cup Final.
With the help of fullback Jerome Theisson’s translation, Frantz Pangop spoke to us about his first goal for the club and whether or not he likes playing on the wing or up top. “It was a friendly game to expose myself and I did what was demanded by the coach and I am happy to score a goal for this team.” “I used to play striker but have played on the outside for the past 4 years so I have no preference where.”
Last but not least, my MOTM, Mason Toye. The Rookie was the most composed we have seen all season tonight and he was very unlucky not to tally a goal on the score sheet. Mason assisted on the only goal for the Loons tonight and his determination to get the pass to Pangop was how it happened. Here from the kid yourself: “Frantz was gonna be there and we had combined a couple times before and we had combined in training too a few times and i think the goal came as a result of that. I thought I had done a pretty good job of creating more space for myself and getting on the ball and taking guys on. There’s some positives to takeaway but there are a few thing I still need to work on like keeping the ball, there’s a few times where I gave the ball away and I need to hold it and keep possession.”
Briefly: The Loons return to action this Saturday to take on Real Salt Lake at 7pm. The game could be where we witness the debut of new Ecuadorian winger, Romario Ibarra. The new play maker is supposed to arrive Thursday or Friday and he could get his first minutes come Saturday.