MNUFC Secure Second Place of Group D with Draw against Colorado
ORLANDO, Fla. - Minnesota United came into Wednesday's match controlling their own destiny in the Group Stage. Colorado had little to play for, having already been eliminated from the MLS Is Back Tournament by Sporting KC's win over Real Salt Lake earlier in the day. But with regular season results on the line and a long history of close games and animosity between the sides, there was every reason to believe Minnesota's final game of the Group Stage would be a feisty affair and the teams delivered.
With Kevin Molino unavailable after picking up a knock against Real Salt Lake, Head Coach Adrian Heath rejiggered his formation and the Loons came out in a 4-3-3. This split midfield playmaking duties between Hassani Dotson and Jan Gregus ahead of holding mid Osvaldo Alonso. The formation at first made it difficult for Colorado to play through the middle and it initially led to strong spells of possession for MNUFC.
Unfortunately, the Loons also struggled to get creative in the final third, perhaps missing Molino's playmaking and penchant for dropping back to connect the midfield to the attackers. The Rapids quickly made the decision to keep it simple and play direct ball over the top in order to bypass Minnesota's thorny midfield. In the 19th minute, Diego Rubio forced a turnover by Alonso, opening up a wide open counterattack. Forward Kei Kamara floated out to the right and received the ball in space and isolated with goalkeeper Tyler Miller. The well-traveled forward calmly slipped the ball past Miller to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.
Minnesota responded well, though, growing into the game and finding space down the wings by playing through defender Romain Metanire on the right side. The pressure exerted on that flank eventually began to open up the opposite side, and in the 36th minute, a Gregus free kick from a foul on Dotson on the left brought the Loons back. Gregus curled the ball around the two-man wall set up by Colorado and midfielder Ethan Finlay stepped out just far enough to flick the ball on with a toe tap and make it 1-1.
In the 43rd minute, it was once again Gregus curling a beautiful pass, this time in the run of play, out to Metanire on the right wing. Metanire cut the ball down the touchline and into the box, centering it to a waiting Finlay who converted the difficult chance to complete his brace and put the Loons on top 2-1.
Ten minutes into a second half that looked much the same, Colorado Head Coach Robin Fraser made the decision to bring in Jonathan Lewis and Nicolas Mezquida for Nicolas Benezet and Collen Warner, respectively, and instantly changed the complexion of the game.
In the 59th minute, a Colorado free kick was cleared to the edge of the box only for Lewis to round on it and drill the half volley into the net just inside the near post. The goal was Lewis' third as a sub in the tournament.
Although Minnesota continued to put together promising bouts of possession down the stretch, it became clear that an injection of energy was needed. Heath brought on Raheem Edwards for Robin Lod and Marlon Hairston for Finlay in the 86th minute and the Loons' offense sprung to life, garnering several solid chances including a shot from Edwards that narrowly missed his head and instead glanced off his shoulder and out of bounds.
In the end, MNUFC would have to satisfy themselves with a draw and a point, giving them 11 points through the first five games of the regular season. The result also meant the team locked up the D2 spot in the Group Stage, sending them on to face Columbus Crew SC - the tournament's hottest team - in the Round of 16.
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH: Midfielder Ethan Finlay
19' | A turnover sprung by Diego Rubio leads to a wide open counterattack from the Rapids. Kei Kamara floats out wide right and isolated on Miller, he doesn't miss. Rapids on top, 1-0
36' | Jan Gregus curls the ball around the two-man wall and Ethan Finlay flicks the ball in on the near post to level the game. 1-1
43' | Finlay with the brace as Metanire makes a deep run down the touchline and cuts it back to Finlay who rounds on the tough finish. 1-2
59' | Jonathan Lewis rips a half-volley off the free kick and brings the Rapids level. 2-2
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
Colorado Rapids: GK: William Yarbough; D Keegan Rosenberry, Lalas Abubakar, Drew Moor, Sam Vines; M Younes Namli, Kellyn Acosta, Collen Warner, Nicolas Benezet; F Kei Kamara, Diego Rubio
Minnesota United vs. Columbus Crew
ESPN Wide World of Sports | Orlando, Florida
7.28.20 | MLS is Back Tournament presented by Heineken | MLS Group Round of 16
7:00 p.m. CT (ESPN, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MINNESOTA UNITED QUOTE SHEET
MINNESOTA UNITED HEAD COACH ADRIAN HEATH
On facing the Columbus Crew, his respect for Caleb Porter...
"Well, we probably won't turn up because everybody has crowned them champions already, so, maybe we'll give it to them. It's another team that we have to face. And we'll be ready. I've felt as though we've gotten better each game. I thought we were better tonight. And, I think we'll be better for tonight's performance. And our energy levels were better. And, I'm really looking forward to the game."
On the level of his team right now, overall, compared to where he expects to be with this team...
"Well, where we were before. Before the break. And I don't think we've reached them levels at this moment in time. But I felt that we have got better each game. And I'm hopeful that - I fact, I'm more than hopeful - that we'll be prepared for the game against Columbus. We know they're a very good team. They're well coached. They've got good individuals. Spend a lot of money on a lot of players. And, they've been very impressive. But, I also know that Caleb [Porter] will have enough respect for this group to know that it's not going to be as probably as easy as a lot of people out there think."
On how the team fared without Kevin Molino in the middle playing his role and how some of the other players did filling in...
"We changed the shape, didn't we? We went without a traditional 10 and played with a 6 and two 8's. I thought they gave us a little bit of stability in there. Obviously, at this moment in time, you're going to miss the way that Kevin [Molino] has been playing. Any team is going to miss a quality footballer that has been playing really, really well and is very confident. And that's what Kevin was. We think he'll be available for Tuesday night. We hope he will be. And then, we'll have to decide what we do in terms of, do we revert back to our normal shape, or do we stick with what we've got, or do we do something different. The one good thing about this group of players that we have, is that we can move it around somewhat, and make a different shape altogether. It might cause a few headaches for Columbus."
On what he thought of Ethan Finlay's play tonight...
"The one thing about Ethan [Finlay] is it's never in question. His energy levels and his willingness to run and do what you ask of him. Tonight, it's always nice for wide guys to get on the scoresheet because the amount of runs he makes into the box, we probably didn't pick him out another couple of times where he probably had a great opportunity to get a hat trick if our quality in the final third had been a bit more. So, I'm pleased for him. That will do his confidence no end. The fact that he scored a couple of goals and, you know, he'll obviously be itching to play against his old team, Columbus, next Tuesday."
On his views of Colorado's equalizer and if it needed a better clearance or Tyler Miller could have done more with the shot...
"I'll have to really see it again. It happened that quick. I know it was a free kick that was put in there and we didn't clear it well enough, so, I'll have to have a look at it. I can't honestly say to you now, what was at fault, but, obviously, I know we didn't clear the first ball well enough. I thought one of the issues tonight, as well, because, they had really good quality into the box, as we did as times. When you've got big bodies in the box, you leave yourself in a position to be punished. Because, when you've got people like Kei [Kamara] in the box, it's very difficult to defend when they put quality in the box. I thought we gave a few too many fouls away in really difficult situations."
On Ike Opara's status and if he will be available for the Knockout Stage...
"No, he won't be available. No, he'll be staying at home for the tournament."
MINNESOTA UNITED MIDFIELDER ETHAN FINLAY
On how it feels to get back on the score sheet...
"Yeah, I mean it feels good. Obviously I've had some chances this tournament and it's good to put two away. And, you know, unfortunately I think I've had seven or eight of these in my career where I've had a brace and have yet to complete the hat trick...tonight would've been a good night to do it, but you know, didn't get it done, but it was good on a personal level. Obviously I'd take the win any day though."
On facing his former team Columbus Crew...
"Well, I'm going to come out, whoever the opponent is, and give everything I got. But, obviously it's a former team of mine, I've got some former teammates that play on that team, so I won't need anymore [reason] to get up for that game. You know, it's been one of the better teams throughout this tournament and, so, to get to a final you know you obviously at some point are going to have to play the best and you know we're probably going to get one of the better teams in the first round and it's a great test for us. We're a club that wants, has, great aspirations and you're playing a team is, I think, probably is the Supporter's [Shield] lead right now if I remember correctly, so it's going to be a great test for us. I'll be up for it, and I think our guys will be up for it."
On maintaining quality/consistency while playing without some key players...
"Yeah, this team has never been built on one person or one talent. Every year this team got better because they've added better pieces, pieces to this puzzle, and I think that came to fruition last year by adding like pieces like, you know, Ike Opara like you've mentioned. We've continued to do that, obviously this year adding, you know, a guy like Luis...I think he's getting there with full fitness. We've got other guys coming off the bench, so a very deep squad I feel like we've assembled this year. And you know it really starts with our work ethic and our heart and our desire and we saw that in obviously in the first game. Tonight, we came up a little bit short. We absolutely played some of our better soccer though for the most part tonight, so there's some positives to take from it, but you know, I still think most of the guys in the locker room are disappointed with the draw against a team we think we can beat."
On how he's feeling physically after three games...
"You know, this is what happens with tournament play, there's going to be quick turnaround. I think this club and I think these guys have put a lot of effort in, you could see that. What we did in our first two games of the season, that was all the work we did in the preseason. I think we had a very similar setup as we led into this tournament and I think, hopefully, that'll reflect, you know, as these games go on. I feel like, as the game goes on, we become somewhat of the fresher team, and I think we've shown that, and that will be tested again, I think we'll be playing on [Tuesday], so our guys will take care of their bodies. You gotta be a professional about it, and both teams are in a way going to have to deal with it, maybe they get an extra day of rest on us, but we will be ready."
On having 11 points headed into the next round of the tournament...
"Yeah I mean, satisfied, but you know still feel like tonight we fell short of what we're capable of. But yeah, if you asked us before this if the first five games we'd have 11 points, obviously with the first two on the road in tough places to play, yeah I think we'd be very happy. You know, we do set ourselves up good for whatever comes after this."
On how he would rate the team on where they stand now...
"Given the circumstances of what we're kind of dealing with here, maybe the performances soccer-wise haven't been up to our level where we were in the first two games, but I think if you look around the league there's no team really that has been unbelievable, and have maybe been to their top standard. That's just a product of the circumstances that we are dealing with here, but like Chase said, I think we're continuing to put more positive minutes, possessing the ball, and being good in the attack, defending well throughout this tournament. So, we hope to build off that and again, whatever comes after this, we'll be prepared."
MINNESOTA UNITED DEFENDER CHASE GASPER
On where he was for both MNUFC goals...
"The first one, my job's to guard the top of the box, so that if anything comes out. And Jan [Gregus], we've been working on this at practice a lot, Jan fired in a great free kick and Ethan was in a great position and got the perfect flick on it, and just a great goal from the training ground. The second one, same thing, I was just at the top of the box doing my job...I can't really think of it right now."
On where he was for both conceded goals...
"Yeah, I was pretty far up the field. We lost the possession in the attacking third and Colorado had a quick breakaway, so I was trying to get back as fast as I could, and unfortunately Kei [Kamara] is a really fast player, gets into good spots, and he got in a threatening spot and put it away."
On the anticipation of playing Columbus Crew...
"Yeah, throughout the tournament, all the players have been watching all the games, and I think a lot of people have really tuned into Columbus, they've been playing some great soccer and they're a great team. So, like Ethan mentioned earlier, at some point in the tournament you're going to have to beat the best in order to be the best, so, you know, whether it was Columbus or some other team. We're going to come out swinging, we're going to come out fighting and give it all in our game, and so, we're looking forward to the match-up."
On how he would rate the team on where they stand now...
"Like Ethan just mentioned, you know at the beginning of the season if you said we'd have 11 points, we'd be very pleased with that. However, I think after every single game we've proven to the fans, to the coaches, as well as ourselves, the potential that this team has. So, although we are pleased with 11 points, we definitely are not fully satisfied, we know we are capable of doing more and you know we've had spells throughout each of the games where we are very pleased, but there are also a few spells that we know we can improve on. So, we're going to watch the film, learn from these past games, and hopefully improve in our next game against Columbus."
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