Hlongwane’s Brace Is Not Enough for MNUFC to Overcome Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (10) and Minnesota United midfielder Will Trapp (20) vie for the ball during the MNUFC vs Chicago Fire Leagues Cup match on Thursday, July 27, 2023 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

On a night where dark clouds took over the sky at Allianz Field, Minnesota United set their sights on Chicago Fire. Following a scoreless 60n minutes, four goals were scored in less then 20 minutes, followed by a Kei Kamara goal right before a weather delay. Unable to score in the final eleven minutes after resuming play the Loons fell to the Fire, but guaranteed themselves a spot in the Leagues Cup knockout stage.

Coming off a large victory against Puebla, Adrian Heath stuck with his favoured 4-2-3-1 and made only one change to the Starting XI. Miguel Tapias replaced Michael Boxall in the back line, this due to Boxall’s red card from last weekend.

In the opening moments, play seemed to be a repeat of the Puebla match. Less than 30 seconds in to the match Hlongwane already made a run at a goal. The opening ferocity from Minnesota continued as the Loons continuously peppered the Fire with shots in the opening 20 minutes of football. Chicago’s defence held strong denying multiple shots inside the box and preventing Minnesota from taking an early lead. The Fire finally took their first shot of the evening 23 minutes in, with the shot sailing over the bar.

Minnesota maintained overall dominance throughout in the first 45 minutes and netted eight shots in the process, though only one went on target. Chicago meanwhile held majority possession in the first three quarters-hour, but were held to just four shots without a single one reaching the goal.

The first seventeen minutes of the second half very much resembled the start of the first. Minnesota once again blitzed Chicago with shots, finally striking one home in 62nd minute. After recovering a loose ball from a tackle at midfield, the Loons worked the ball down the pitch towards the 18 yard box. Hassani Dotson sent a pass from the top of the penalty arc to Hlongwane just inside the 18. The right wing corralled the ball with one touch, before firing a scorcher in to the far corner of the goal.

Minnesota’s initial lead did not last all that long. Six minutes following the goal, Wil Trapp fouled Brian Gutiérrez inside the box giving Chicago a penalty. Xherdan Shaqiri, who just came on in the 66th minute as part of a triple change for the Fire, took the kick from the spot. Shaqiri sent the kick to the left, while Dayne St. Clair dove the opposite direction, giving Chicago their first goal and knotting up the match.

Two goals in six minutes wasn’t enough and in the 73rd minute, just four minutes following the goal Hlongwane struck again for Minnesota. A loose ball bounced hard off the ground allowing Franco Fragapane to head it forward off the ground to Hlongwane, who immediately one timed a volley into goal. The midfielder’s goal gave him four in the past two matches, 12 on the season, and a 2-1 Minnesota lead.

Chicago struck back less than 10 minutes, trying the match on a night that turned from a defensive battle into a goal fest. Miguel Navarro sent a low cross from the left side of the box to the far side of the penalty area. Dayne St. Claire dove attempting to stop the cross, but was unable to get a hand on it and hard charging Arnaud Souquet one-timed a shot to the far corner where DSC was unable to recover in time to make the save.

In the 83rd minute, 20n minutes after the first goal of the match, Kei Kamara scored the fifth and final goal of the night to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.

“Obviously incredibly disappointed. We had enough chances to have won the game and we’ve given three really poor goals away,” said Adrian Heath in the post match press conference. “You’ve heard me say a lot of times, concede three goals, you won’t win many games. But we had enough chances to have won the game.”

DJ Taylor would be injured during that goal as on Kei Kamara’s jump his boot caught DJ Taylor’s head. Adrian Heath said following the match, “Obviously Kei [Kei Kamara] hadn’t meant that, it’s one of those freak accidents. With the studs or lack of studs in what we wear these days, the slippers that the players wear, the lacerations do become very dangerous at times.”

With the result Minnesota United has not won the group but has secured a place in the Leagues Cup Round of 32. Central Group 2 play will conclude on Monday, July 31st when Chicago Fire host Club Puebla at SeatGeek Stadium. Following the final match, if Minnesota finishes second they will travel to the winner of Central Group 1. In the event that the Loons win the group, which can happen if Chicago loses in regulation time, they will host the runner-up of Central Group 1. The Leagues Cup knockout stage first round kicks off on August 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.