Minnesota shocks CITYPARK, becomes first team to defeat St. Louis City

A panoramic view from the pressbox of St. Louis’ CITYPARK, in the heart of St. Louis, MO, ahead of MNUFC’s 1-0 win on April 1, 2023. (Photo by Ashle Paige)

Two unbeaten sides came into the match at CITYPARK on Saturday night in St. Louis, both with additional streaks they looked to maintain. St. Louis had won their first two home matches in resounding fashion and had two consecutive clean sheets in a five game winning streak. Minnesota was not only undefeated on the road, but had won their first two away matches and looked to extend that streak to three. With one Luis Amarilla penalty kick, followed by 20 more minutes of stout defense, Minnesota would head out of St. Louis with their third win and their away winning streak intact.

“I was so pleased with my group tonight. We’ve had so much adversity this year, through one thing or another. It’s been something every week,” Adrian Heath stated post match. “Last week it was seven, eight players not available. This week, waiting for all your players to come back. Boxy [Michael Boxall] was sick when he gets back, Bongi [Bongokuhle Hlongwane] arrives back late, nearly midnight on Thursday.  When I look at the shift that some of the guys have put in, I’m so pleased for them because they’ve got a reward for everything that they’ve done.”

Things did not come easy for Heath’s side in St. Louis with Franco Fragapane taking a yellow card just 19 minutes into what would be a very chippy match with 26 fouls called. Additional yellow cards would be given to MNUFC’s Kervin Arriaga and STL’s Jared Stroud, Tim Parker, and Kyle Hiebert. Fragapane went on to get two more stern warnings from the referee for rough play before he was subbed out for Joseph Rosales in the 84th minute. Rosales would be the third and final sub Heath used from a bench that included two goalkeepers and MLS NEXT PRO player Emmanuel Iwe, who joined the senior squad for the second consecutive week on another short-term loan.

The first half was chippy and the Loons had to survive an offensive assault by St. Louis CITY, with the hosts dominating possession for all but five minutes of play, a 61 to 39 percent advantage. Jared Stroud joined Fragapane in the referee’s book in the 28′, drawing a yellow card for a late tackle, but overall, St. Louis made the most of their time on the ball, sending in 9 shots and 2 on target (compared to Minnesota’s 4 shots and none on target).

Regarding that fast, high press, Heath said, “We handled it really well. I said we have to get ourselves in good spots nice and early. I thought the two fullbacks got some really good spots and picked the right time to play short, the right time to play long because the press comes and, at times, leaves themselves vulnerable, man-for-man at the back. I said to them ‘if you’re not sure in midfield, let’s get it to the front men and go play from there.’ Even in the first half, I thought we looked really dangerous on the counter-attack. As I say, we managed their press really well.”

Minnesota United came out of halftime fired up and dominated the possession game as they attacked towards St. Louis City’s raucous supporters section. The Loons would control the ball for the majority of the first 25 minutes of the second half, sending in 3 shots to no avail. Towards the end of this run of MNUFC controlling play, Kyle Hiebert was called for a foul inside the penalty area, receiving a yellow card for a heavy challenge on Amarilla – handing Minnesota a penalty kick and the chance to break open the match. Luis Amarilla drove home the penalty kick in the 76th minute to give Minnesota the only goal of the match.

“Like all strikers, you have these spells where you’re fighting a little bit. I thought he made some really good runs in the first half that didn’t quite find him and then a couple times, his first touch let him down a little bit. He’s working so hard,” Heath said. “As I said to you, the one thing I do know about the two front men [Amarilla and Ménder García] , their output, their miles-distance covered, their high-speed running, is off the charts. They are helping everybody else when we’re defending. They’ll get their rewards and that’s what he did, they got their rewards for the penalty.”

Following the goal, St. Louis City regained near complete control of the match for the final 20 minutes of play, tallying 5 more shots and allowing Minnesota only 1 in that same period. Minnesota United responded by playing as many as nine players back deep to absorb pressure, additionally bringing on defender Brent Kallman to replace forward Luis Amarilla in the 84th minute.

“First and foremost, we’ve had a really good shape and not many teams have been able to break us down,” Dayne St. Clair explained. “Some of the goals have been set pieces and things like that, but we’ve done a good job of getting a good shape behind the ball, and it’s been tough for teams to break us down.”

MNUFC players applaud their traveling supporters, seated in the far corner of the upper bowl, following a 1-0 win over St Louis CITY at CITYPARK on Saturday, April 1, 2023. (Photo by Ashle Paige)

St. Clair was the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet against St. Louis at CITYPARK, registering three saves on the night. He also got his first taste of a new officiating mystery. Similar to last week’s match, against Vancouver at home, the Loons would have to endure seven minutes of stoppage time before the final whistle.  “Seven minutes again. Is that going to be every week? I must have missed that memo,” Heath later quipped.

Minnesota United FC will play their fourth away match of the season next Saturday when they face Chicago Fire away for the first time since 2019. This will also be the Loons first-ever visit to Soldier Field, in the heart of downtown, as the Fire played at SeatGeek Stadium in suburban Bridgeview when the teams last met. MNUFC will enter the match with a 3-0-2 record and 11 points to their name while Chicago comes in at 1-1-3 with just six points.