It started... sketchily... but Minnesota United managed to squeak out its first away victory in 357 days with a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Loons’ first match of the 2019 season.
Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 will return for a third season. New goalkeeper Vito Mannone started in goal, despite missing a chunk of time early in the week to sort out visa issues in England. Francisco Calvo kept the captain’s armband as he started on the left side of the defense. Michael Boxall and new-arrival Ike Opara anchored the back line, and newbie Romain Metanire held down the right flank. The all-new midfield of DP Ján Greguš and Ozzie Alonso sat behind an attacking three of Rasmus Schuller, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra. Romario Ibarra capped off the formation as the striker.
The Loons’ first concession of the season came a little quicker — that is to say, a lot — than many would have liked. Poor marking on an early set-piece gave Vancouver a lead just after the five-minute mark.
GIF: Some things change, some things stay the same. Remade #MNUFC gives up an early goal on the road via free kick and trail Vancouver 1-0 after the sixth minute. Looked like Francisco Calvo and Jan Gregus were two #Loons far from on-point to start 2019 season. pic.twitter.com/BEAQCxbCNT— Andy Greder (@andygreder) March 2, 2019
Alonso picked up his first yellow card of the year in the 24th minute in a sample of his aggressive playing style.
It was, fittingly, Quintero who scored the Loons’ first goal of 2019, perfectly converting a penalty after Calvo was brought down in the box. The Loons entered the half back on level terms with the home side.
Shortly after the hour mark, United found a lead through a chip from Quintero and a diving header from Calvo.
The interception.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 3, 2019
What a goal. #MNUFC https://t.co/8Np9CXdG2Y
And just minutes later, Romario Ibarra doubled the Loons’ lead with a bit of fancy footwork and a helpful deflection.
A little bit of shake 'n bake from Romario Ibarra and the Loons lead 3-1! #VANvMIN https://t.co/yVVw3xigoK— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 3, 2019
The set-piece defending didn’t improve as the game progressed. United gave one back to the ‘Caps with an interesting scheme that left a gaping whole in the middle of the penalty area...
GIF: #MNUFC concedes ANOTHER goal on a set piece. It's stunning how wide open Vancouver's Doneil Henry was able to get to for a header to cut #Loons' lead to 3-2 in 81st minute. Michael Boxall and Ike Opara were *nearest* defenders. pic.twitter.com/J6ZNZtbdIU— Andy Greder (@andygreder) March 3, 2019
The Loons managed to hold on in four minutes of stoppage time as rookie Hassani Dotson made his MLS debut.