MNUFC Advances to Quarterfinals of MLS Is Back Tournament
ORLANDO, Fla. - In a matchup between two undefeated teams, Minnesota United met Columbus Crew SC on a rainy Tuesday evening to determine who would go through the Knockout Stage and face the San Jose Earthquakes in the Quarterfinals of the MLS Is Back Tournament. Playing a defensively disciplined game, the Loons refused to be baited into overcommitting and after scoring early off a corner kick put home by midfielder Robin Lod, sat back and absorbed the Crew's best attempts time after time. After conceding a late penalty to Columbus, though, the game would go to a shootout, where Minnesota United would come out on top, sending the tournament's darlings packing and themselves through to the next round.
Although Minnesota came out in nominally the same 4-3-3 the Loons ran out against Colorado to close out the Group Stage, it actually played quite differently. Instead of having midfielders Hassani Dotson and Jan Gregus play as two #8s, Dotson performed more like a false #10, leaving Gregus free to back up midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who formed a stout defensive triangle in front of Minnesota's box with defenders Jose Aja and Michael Boxall.
The Crew's go-to strategy has been to use possession to draw teams up the pitch and then force them into mistakes, but the Loons simply weren't going for it on the night. Minnesota was happy to give Columbus the bulk of possession, ending the night with only 35.3% of the ball. Without the playmaking of the injured Kevin Molino, Minnesota relied heavily on the interplay between defender Romain Metanire and midfielder Ethan Finlay down the right side. For their part, Columbus also funneled most of their efforts down the right side of the field through the early phases of the game.
Minnesota's dominance on set pieces - even without defender Ike Opara - once again came to the fore. In the 18th minute, MNUFC earned its first corner kick of the night, and while Gregus' initial cross was headed towards goal by Robin Lod, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell turned it away. Forward Gyasi Zardes attempted to clear it, but only as far as Aja, who tapped it back to Lod with his head and Lod drove the ball hard into the ground and over Tarbell to open the scoring and put MNUFC up 1-0.
Although forward Luis Amarilla nearly doubled the lead towards the end of the first half with a chip from near midfield when Tarbell had come way off his line, the Loons 1-0 lead held going into the half. As Minnesota began to settle deeper into its bunker, Columbus continued to probe the defense but had a devilishly hard time digging Alonso out from his spot in Zone 14. Their attempts went begging until the 78th minute, when an ill-timed challenge from Aja on halftime sub Derrick Etienne, Jr collided with the midfielder's leg, drawing the referee's whistle as he pointed to the spot.
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller stood up to forward Gyasi Zardes' initial shot, but the ball bounced out directly in front of goal and Zardes would make no mistake on the second effort as he brought the Crew level at 1-1.
That score would hold through stoppage time and with a spot in the Quarterfinals against San Jose Earthquakes on the line, the teams went to a penalty shootout. The difference ended up being Tyler Miller's stoning of second-half sub Chris Cadden as the Loons who stepped up to the spot - Alonso, Gregus, Aaron Schoenfeld, Raheem Edwards and Chase Gasper - went a perfect five-for-five to end Columbus' dazzling run through the MLS Is Back Tournament.
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH: Goalkeeper Tyler Miller
18' | Off the corner kick, Robin Lod heads the ball towards goal and his initial strike is rebuffed. But the clearance is short and Aja taps it back to Lod who smashes the ball off the turf and past Andrew Tarbell. 1-0
79' | Tyler Miller blocks the first shot from Gyasi Zardes but the ball springs out in front of goal and Zardes doesn't miss on the rebound. 1-1
Minnesota United: GK Tyler Miller; D Romain Metanire, Jose Aja, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus, Hassani Dotson, Robin Lod, Ethan Finlay; F Luis Amarilla
Columbus Crew: GK Andrew Tarbell; D Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensahm, Aboubacar Keita, Milton Valenzuela; M Darlington Nagbe, Artur, Luis Diaz, Lucas Zelarayan, Pedros Santos; F Gyasi Zardes
Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
ESPN Wide World of Sports | Orlando, Florida
8.1.20 | MLS is Back Tournament presented by Heineken | Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. CT (ESPN 2, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MINNESOTA UNITED QUOTE SHEET
MINNESOTA UNITED HEAD COACH ADRIAN HEATH
On how gratifying it is to be advancing to the quarterfinals round with this group...
"I think we've played our way into the tournament. I think we've got progressively better. Every game. And, we had to be better tonight. We played a really good team. They're a well-coached team. They're well-drilled. And they put you in dangerous spots. But I actually thought the change in shape and our midfield three there, actually worked really well for us. I thought at the end - whether we would have won the penalties or not - it's six games now that we haven't been beaten. When you look at people we have been missing at times, I think it speaks volumes for the group, and the commitment to the full squad."
On how the five players chosen for the penalty kicks and order came about...
"We practice them in training. But, you're never 100 percent certain at the order because you never know who is going to be on the field. And as I always say, I always want people who are confident to take a penalty. Because, it is a different psyche. I've seen the best players in the world miss penalties, because, you can't put into practice when you've played 90 minutes the mental fatigue and the physical fatigue. I said to them, whatever you do, be positive, and they were. Really good penalties. I always think that if you take five penalties, we've got a goalkeeper that will save at least one. And that's what he did."
On how much this win mentally impacts the team in a positive way, since the team is constantly progressing...
"We played a really good team. I think it took, probably, our best performance since we've been down here to do that. Because if we hadn't have, we wouldn't have gotten a result tonight. I'm really happy for the group. Some of the guys have come on, I think of Jacori [Hayes] and Aaron [Schoenfeld] again, Marlon Hairston, shows the depth of the squad, and that was what we tried to do in the offseason. Was to get people who played in the league, who know what it's going to be about. And, they've been big tonight. I actually think that we'll be better for the game, again, tonight. We know it's going to be tough against San Jose. They've been excellent since they've been here. It's a little bit of a different game than we've had tonight. But, we'll be ready for it. You know, we've had good results against them in the past, but, that won't count for an awful lot on Saturday."
On if he has a particular fondness for a tournament format...
"I think the quality of the games have gone up. I think, also, now, the players are a little excited. We've got a really happy dressing room in there. They're singing the Wonderwall at the end of the game. As I said to them, before, when we were talking before the game. We've been here four weeks. What's another two weeks going to take. Let's stay in the competition. We're here now. Let's see if we can go and win it. Because, if we play better than we are, then, which, we are capable of, we're going to be a threat to teams."
On what he has noticed about the mentality of this team in particular, how much more bonded together this incarnation of the team is as teammates...
"It's a really united group. The sort of camraderie and the togetherness that is in the group is there for all to see. You know, they'll take each game as it comes. They aren't silly. They read stuff. People think I do it deliberately, but I didn't hear or read or see anything before the game that suggested that we had a chance. The most important people thought they had a chance, and the most important people are the players, and our staff. And I said to them before the game, we play well and we are capable of winning the game. And we have. And we're capable of winning again at the weekend. But, the actual belief is still growing. And, I think there's more to come."
On Robin Lod not being able to break through and having a tough few games, after going out and getting him, if he starts to feel that himself as a manager...
"The one thing is, we know that we've got a quality player on our hands. If you ask any of the people in our team, in the squad, they all know the qualities that Robin [Lod] has got. And, I see it. Every day. Now, he conceivably could have had two or three down here. If you look at the beginning of the season, he could have had two or three. Hopefully, a bit of confidence will come through with that now. It's always nice to get off the mark. But, I have no worries about Robin Lod. I think his attitude to work and be a part of a group for the greater good of the group is there for all to see."
On where he stands on his ability to create dangerous chances up top, and if he's getting enough dangerous, quality chances at this stage...
"I thought we were better this evening. I think we're growing into the tournament. I think we've got better each game. I thought we were better again tonight. We haven't done well enough with the ball in the opposing half. At times, we're too quick, we're too hurried. We don't compose ourselves and move the ball around enough. We want to go and demand it now. And, that's something we spoke about and that's something that we're going to need to do. We're going to need to possess the ball better than we have done against San Jose. Because that's one of their strengths. They keep the ball, they spread you out. It will be a new challenge for us at the weekend. For sure."
On if there was a specific strategy he takes into a penalty situation...
"I just said to them, listen, be positive in whatever you do. I know that the goalkeeper has more of a chance if you want to roll them slowly down the side or try and do the Panenka or whatever you want to do. So, I just wanted them to be positive and put the foot through it and make sure that if the keeper is going to save it, it's going to be a really good save."
On Osvaldo Alonso's influence both tactically and in the locker room...
"He's the captain. That's why he was captain for Seattle for virtually 10 years. Incredible professional. Great desire. Wants to win everything that we do. Make sure that people are held accountable and responsible. And that's what great players do. And that's what he's been. He's been a great player in this league. And he doesn't need to be playing well to have an effect on other people. He just gets after people and makes sure that everyone is accountable and doing the job that's expected of them. And I thought some of his stuff tonight was immense. He's been a great signing for us not just on the field, but off the field as well."
On his interaction with Caleb Porter after the game...
"I've got a lot of time for Caleb [Porter]. I think he's done a great job here. And, I knew we were going to have to play well. So, he wished us well. He said, go and win it now. Obviously, it's never easy straight after the game. But, I know when he analyzes what they've done since they've been down here, there's an enormous amount of positives for Columbus. You know, they've got a really good team together. And, it took a really good, real defensive shape and determination to see it through. So, no, he wished us well and said go and win it now, which was nice."
MINNESOTA UNITED GOALKEEPER TYLER MILLER
On what he took from the first PK of the game into the shootout...
"I mean for me, I think it's a confidence thing. Gyasi [Zardes] obviously didn't shoot in the five shooters that Columbus ended up having...so it really didn't affect what went into the PK shootout in the end."
On his mindset to keep him in the zone going into the shootout...
"For me, I'm relaxed. I know all the pressure is on the shooter. I told our guys before, to just pick your spot and stick with it and be confident, and I think that in PKs a lot of it just comes down to your confidence. So I felt really confident in our guys and I knew if I could make one save to help my team then that my guys would be able to come through. And they did."
On if the team feels disrespected...
"I don't think so. I mean we don't really care what anybody else thinks about our team. We're confident in ourselves. Like we have our own inner-confidence that we thrive off of and it really doesn't matter what anybody else thinks about us."
On Jose Aja's demeanor after allowing the penalty...
"I think Jose's a professional player. I mean PKs are gonna happen. It's a hard game, and you have to make a decision in a split moment, and I did my best on that PK and it was unfortunate the rebound went straight back to him. I felt really confident in Jose and [Michael Boxall] and our whole defensive unit that we had this entire game. I mean we probably got out-possessed a lot tonight, but we defended as a team and that's what it's going to take to win this tournament. And these one-off games are very difficult, but I think you saw collectively how strong our unit is together and when it comes down to it, anybody is ready to make a play. So, I know Jose would be fine and pick himself back up, and I think he did a tremendous job after that."
On the 'don't count us out' mentality...
"I think that we do know that every team out there has their special players, and I think that we know we also have our special players and maybe they're not as big of "names," so maybe that's where we get lost in the mix. But I think that tonight, and constantly, we've proved that you don't need to have special names if you have a strong team. So, I think that our guys are all unique and they bring something different. The whole squad, everyone that comes in. I think Jacori [Hayes] came into the game tonight and did a tremendous job filling in next to Ozzie [Alonso], and he really allowed us to gain some control. Sso we may not have these huge superstars on our team, but we have a really strong camaraderie, which I think is something that is very, very special and I'm really happy to be a part of it."
On his secret to defending penalty kicks...
"I don't know, I'm not going to tell you because I don't know who watches this." *laughs*
MINNESOTA UNITED MIDFIELDER ROBIN LOD
On what it felt like to get back on the scoresheet...
"It feels so good, good to score. I mean the game was really good for us as a team and we worked so hard as a team and had a good result, and today was my turn to score a goal, but the important thing is that we went through as a team."
On his responsibilities on corner kicks...
"It depends on how we play or who's opening it. Mostly I'm there to help the big guys to get some freedom and jump to the ball, and then I'm searching for the second ball. So, like today and it just dropped really good on my feet, so I was happy to be there in the right place and the right time."
On how if this feels like the most complete game the team has played since being in Orlando...
"Yeah I think we played really good as a team and I think it was the toughest opponent for sure in this tournament, and we proved ourselves and showed that we can win against anyone here."
On considering how unique the 2020 season has been, how does it feel to know they're playing San Jose again...
"We had a good game against them early in the season and we know how they're going to play and we know what is their weakness is. So, I feel really confident in our team in that we will show up."
On finally getting a goal and having a breakthrough...
"I mean I wasn't that worried because I know I've been in those chances and it's been just a matter of time to get on the scoresheet. So, of course it's nice that it came at this point and it brings some more confidence for sure for the next games."
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