Live Action over Animation: Loons Steal Three Points in Orlando

The Loons celebrate on of Teemu Pukki’s two goals against Orlando City SC at Inter&Co Stadium on Saturday, March 9. (Photo courtesy of MN United FC)

Destination: McDuck Manor — or Inter&Co Stadium

As I wrote last week, soccer is about old traditions and new traditions. In January of this year, the former Orlando City Stadium changed its name again after five years as timeshare-sponsored Exploria Stadium. Brazilian digital bank Inter&Co became Orlando City’s first international sponsor and first financial company based in Latin-America to own naming rights of a major US stadium.

“It’s only fitting that as we enter our 10th season in the MLS here in Orlando and ninth in the NWSL that we would partner for the next decade with a global company, not only committed to our community, but with a shared vision for the future” — Orlando City owner and chairman Mark Wilf

Inter&Co Stadium, Southeast (Walt Disney World sponsored) Entrance — courtesy of Orlando City

Shnookums & Heath Funny Cartoon Show

While Orlando changed stadium names, Minnesota United FC changed its entire sporting side of the club, bringing in a new Sporting Director with a new coach to arrive this week. This match was called the Heath Derby. Is it now the Heathless Derby?

In 2008, an English-born Austin businessman Phil Rawlins bought USL PDL (amateur) expansion side Austin Stampede and renamed it “Austin Aztex” to compete in the professional USL First Division (US 2nd tier). Adrian Heath became the head coach of the Austin Aztex for 2009 and 2010. Heath continued to coach the franchise through moving to Orlando. From 2011-2014, Orlando City SC won the USL Pro regular season three times and the USL Pro playoffs twice.

Two players with Loon connections were on the rosters of both the Austin Aztex and the USL edition of Orlando City: eventual Loons player and sideline reporter Jamie Watson and future Heath assistant coach at MLS Orlando City and MNUFC Ian Fuller. Former Minnesota Technical Director Mark Watson also served as an assistant coach under Heath at both clubs.

When Orlando jumped to MLS in 2015, Heath remained their coach one and a half seasons. In 2017, Minnesota hired Adrian Heath as their head coach for their first MLS season. This match marks the first time ever that Heath is not on either team’s sideline.

In the end, Minnesota United win 3-2 with a Pukki brace and another late goal created by substitutions. Want more details?

Main Cast

Both sides were missing some players due to injury. To compliquack matters, this match fell amidst a congested schedule for Orlando City SC. In addition to MLS games, the hosts are competing in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. This match with the Loons nested between two Orlando midweek games versus Liga MX powerhouse Tigres.

MNUFC Lineup

4-3-3 formation from top Front 3: Clark Pukki Sang Bin Midfield 3: Dotson Trapp Lod Back 4: Rosales Tapias Boxall Taylor GK: St. Clair
MNUFC Starting XI — courtesy of MLS

Interim coach Cameron Knowles continued with his 4-3-3 lineup, with Reynoso and Fragapane out due to injury. Caden Clark made his second consecutive start at left wing while Robin Lod returned to the right midfield from a kick-to-leg suffered in Austin in Week 1.

After subbing last week, Kervin Arriaga made his second appearance on the Loons’ bench. Also, dynamic attacker Bongokuhle Hlongwane made his first game-day roster after being away with green card/visa/fitness issues.

“It takes everybody. Look at our medical staff, our performance staff, the players that come into the game, the players that stay in the game. Look at our bench cheering the guys on. It takes everyone.” — Cameron Knowles

OCSC Lineup

4-2-3-1 formation from topStriker: McGuire Attacking Mids: Angulo Enrique Ojeda Central Mids: Martins Araújo Back 4: Santos Jansson Schlegel þórhallsson GK: Gallese
Orlando City Starting XI — courtesy of MLS

Head coach Óscar Pareja went with his 4-2-3-1 formation. Designated Player AM Facundo Torres was listed as questionable and was rested for this match. Before young striker Duncan McGuire’s deal with Blackburn Rovers fell through, Orlando transferred in Designated Player Luis Muriel. Now, Pareja has two proven goal scorers and both featured in this game.

Goof Troop

Shortly after kickoff, the Loons made a goof. Hassani Dotson played a ball out wide intended for Sang Bin. Orlando’s left fullback Rafael Santos had seen this animated short before. He stepped into the passing lane and quickly sent a through-ball up to Duncan McGuire. The 23-year-old striker scored the quickest goal in Orlando City history (tied for fifth fastest in MLS history), 14 seconds into the match.

Raw Toonage

Minnesota’s new press is designed to win the balls higher up the pitch. Soon after the McGuire goal, a daisy-chain of presses started in the back with DJ Taylor. Sang Bin sprinted forward and continued to hound Rafael Santos to force a back pass to GK Pedro Gallese.

Pukki’s Don Karnage press turned Gallese from Leonardo the Refined Lion to Jitters A. Dog. Raw hustle and raw power yielded a toonage result. Pukki spoke about picking his moments: “It would be stupid to press all the time. But on that one, I felt there was a chance to maybe get something out [of it] — probably didn’t think I would get that out of it. I was just hoping he [Pedro Gallese] would kick it badly. But happy, he made a mistake, and I got a goal out of it.”

Lod ‘n Pukki: Rescue Rangers

Partway through the first half, the match was delayed due to some yellow cards. Unrelated to fouls or cautions, César Araújo went hard into the Inter&Co Stadium grass and needed to be checked on the sideline.

When play resumed, Minnesota Gadget-Hackwrenched a right-side attack that switched to left. The ball went from Boxall to Tapias, who hit a long ball to Sang Bin. The Korean back-passed to Trapp who passed wide right to Taylor. Taylor sent in a cross that almost hit Lod’s head. Orlando CB Rodrigo Schlegel out jumped Lod to head the ball to the other side of the pitch. Caden Clark then combined with Pukki, Rosales, and Lod on the left side. Nine of eleven Loons touched this ball before Pukki  turned and Zippered the ball near post in the 38th minute.

Lod went down injured last May, and Pukki did not arrive until June. While they both contributed to Lod’s goal in Austin, Sang Bin and GK Stuver both touched the ball before Lod scored. This goal against Orlando is the first MNUFC Finnish-to-Finnish Finish.

Before the first game of the season, the Finnish striker said this about his chemistry with Lod:

“I know how to play with Robin. We’ve played many years together. So for me, having him around is a huge plus. He knows what I’m good at, and I know what he’s good at. So I believe I’m getting many good passes from him this year.”

At half time, thanks to a Pukki brace, the Loons landed a limited lead over the Lions 1-2 at Inter&Co Stadium.

Darkwing Bongi

South African winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane missed out on the preseason training and friendlies. He got his green card and work visa, but arrived to Minnesota after the season opener. Saturday’s match marked his first time in a Minnesota United game-day roster since the 2023 Decision Day loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Bongi subbed on in the 66th minute for Pukki, essentially becoming the left wing as 55th minute sub Tani Oluwaseyi moved to center forward.

In the 79th minute, Tapias sent a long clearance down the left. Arriaga headed the ball forward.  Bongi pressed CB Schlegel and won the ball before forcing a stunning Muddlefoot save from Negaduck Gallesse.

Coach Knowles remarked, “The heart, the fight, the character is unbelievable. To weather that storm for large stretches of the game, the chances the opposition created, the amount of possession they had. Obviously being a bit warmer [80+°F] and the physical toll on the guys, the heart they showed was just incredible. To concede so early, essentially from the kickoff, to respond so quickly and then to keep going, keep going, and keep going. When eight minutes turns into ten. I can’t give the guys enough credit, that’s incredible.”


After a series of cartoonish midfield turnovers in both directions, Orlando’s Martín Ojeda slides the ball right to Duncan McGuire. The ping-pong midfield bounces and Ojeda’s movement caused CB Miguel Tapias to be facing cross field instead outward to McGuire. By the time Tapias spun around, McGuire had too much time and space to set up a banger inside the far post. Striker for Striker, goal for goal, brace for brace: the match was tied 2-2 in the 83rd minute.

Bonkers Bongi the Bobcat

In the last two matches, Minnesota United has used all five subs to add fresh legs, energize the press, and discover new attacks. In the last two matches, Minnesota United has scored stoppage time goals. In the last two matches, those subs have scored those stoppage time goals. Should this match at Inter&Co be any different?

Dayne St. Clair kicked the ball up the field, which was headed forward by Jordan Adebayo-Smith, who subbed on for the second consecutive game. Oluwaseyi controlled the ball and passed up to Bongi. Bongi scored in his first game of 2024. Fans of both teams went Bonkers in the 90+5th minute.

“The subs who came on did really well. I think they were all involved, at least the last three subs, in the last goal. And it was a great goal. Good for Bongi to get a goal early [in the season]. And whenever he gets more fit, he will be a big part of this team again.” — Teemu Pukki

Since returning on loan from on loan from San Antonio FC, Oluwaseyi has subbed into all three 2024 matches, and he was a crucial part of a stoppage time goal in all three. He has 1 goal and 2 assists in under 90 minutes played this season.

An MLS post to social media pointed out that since arriving last July, Pukki has 12 goals in MLS. For regular season games since July 1, 2023, only Cucho Hernández has more with 14 goals.

Score 2-3, Expected goals 4.02-1.02, Shots 21-10, Shots on Goal 8-5, Possession 57%-43%, Passes 340-229, Passing Accuracy 79%-72%, Fouls 6-13, Yellow Cards 1-6
Statistics from ORL v MIN — courtesy of MLS

Quack Pack

This was a physical game. Earlier in the second half, Loons RFB DJ Taylor had his legs entwined with an Orlando player minutes before Knowles planned to substitute Zarek Valentin. Taylor had to leave the field favoring one leg.

With the Loons leading in fouls committed 14-7 and in yellow cards 6-1, the home fans were showing signs of unrest early. When Araújo went down and had to be subbed off, the stadium could be heard on the Apple broadcast shouting obscenities at St. Clair, possibly for the time wasting after a collision with Enrique.

One of those yellow cards was earned by Bongi who took off his jersey to celebrate his goal. Not surprisingly, Orlando fans were not happy with the stoppage time goal or celebration.

“It was a crazy one. To be really honest, I don’t know if we really deserved to win this game. They had quite many chances, but in the end it doesn’t really matter who deserves it or not. We’re happy with the three points, and it’s been a good start for us this year.” — Teemu Pukki

The Orlando fans were not the only ones at Inter&Co Stadium that wanted to express their anger. After the final whistle, Captain Robin Jansson muttered something as he walked by the referee. Ramiro Enrique ran to shove Boxall in the back. Wilder Cartagena and Joseph Rosales also got into some physical shoving at the end. One of the Apple commentators remarked that both Cartagena and Rosales received red cards after the cameras cut away from the pitch.

Image shows at top:Western Conference Standings as of 3/10 place / team / pts 1. Portland 7 2. Minnesota 7 3. LA 5 4. St. Louis 5 5. Vancouver 4 6. Salt Lake 4 7. Colorado 4 8. LAFC 4 9. Dallas 3 --- playoff cutoff --- 10. Kansas City 3 11. Austin 2 12. Seattle 2 13. Houston 1 14. San Jose 0
MLS Western Conference Standings after Sunday’s games on March 10 — courtesy of MLS

Loon Tales

Next week, Minnesota returns home to face Los Angeles FC, whose big off-season signing was former Tottenham Hotspur and Olympique Lyonnais GK Hugo Lloris. Head coach Steve Cherundolo was not happy playing at the Blizzard Beach of Sandy, Utah. What will he think of the Minnesota weather? How bad is DJ Taylor’s injury? Who will play fullback if Taylor and Rosales both miss? What will Ramsay have to say on Wednesday and how will he be involved on Saturday?

Stay tuned to Northland Soccer Journal. We’re not going to any theme parks. We’re staying right here.


Northland Soccer Journal thanks our Patrons for supporting our coverage.
If you would like to support independent soccer media, subscribe to NSJ on Patreon.