A nervy hope remains after MNUFC secures a frantic draw with Real Salt Lake

Minnesota United FC returned home on Saturday, April 6, following their first loss of the season, to host a roaring Real Salt Lake. Allianz Field is exactly where the Loons want to be when it is time for a mentality reboot and, despite a slow start, that is exactly what they got. While the 1-1 draw did not allow for ‘Wonderwall’, it may have been the gutsy comeback Minnesota fans needed to see at this stage of the season.

It was a fairly even match on paper but Real Salt Lake showed a quality in the first half that Minnesota simply couldn’t match. While Bongi Hlongwane and Sang Bin Jeong found plenty of dangerous spaces in the visitor’s third, RSL’s defensive plan of flooding the box to frustrate traffic did the job. The visitors favored long balls from wing to wing to stretch the Loons’ midfield, playing a wide open game and finding spaces left open by Minnesota’s high press in which to display a more polished finishing touch.

Despite having the better [in both quality and quantity] chances in the first half, Minnesota could not score first. But Salt Lake’s match opener was no surprise. With the Loons spread wide and thin, Andres Gómez connected with Cristian Arango in scoring position multiple times in the first 20 minutes only to see the final touch go wide and/or high. But moments after Arango sent a blazing shot over the crossbar, Gómez found him again. This time Arango got his head on it and there was no doubt — Goal RSL, 24th minute.

Minnesota trailed 1-0 for more than an hour, kept in check by a combination of their own poor finishing and the heroics of RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The equalizer came in the 87th minute (86th, if you’re counting by when the ball crosses the line vs when it was ruled a goal), just three minutes after forward Tani Oluwaseyi replaced Teemu Pukki. Robin Lod, who had struggled all game to pick out Pukki in traffic, finally got the best of RSL midfielder Emeka Eneli and centerback sub Bryan Oviedo to put the ball into play for Oluwaseyi.

It was another mile-marker on the season, the Loons’ ninth goal and their fifth scored in the 85th minute or later.  (Lod and Oluwaseyi are now tied with 4 goal contributions this season, 2 goals and 2 assists apiece.) Both players earned this tally, especially with Lod’s efforts through the preceding 86 minutes.

In the midfield, it was the same old Loons. While Real Salt Lake made all of their attacking runs look like counters, many of them had in fact started in midfield from Minnesota turnovers. Poor passing remains this squad’s downfall. Continuing in a high pressing 4-3-3 will require Eric Ramsay to fine-tune tactics in the central third but that will come with more training and time.

Ramsay highlighted the team’s improved purpose in possession in the second half as part of the club’s performance goals for the season:

“We’re more dynamic on the sides every time we switched play. We had looked like we had more purpose, we looked like we could have combined better, we were quicker on the sides, you saw it more so with DJ [Taylor] and Sang Bin [Jeong] in the second half. [Alejandro] Bran came on and he added in terms of big switches of play and a real forward looking mentality when he had the ball. That sort of captured the nature of the second half in general, it was more dynamic, it was faster, it was more purposeful and that’s the team we want to be.”

Robin Lod felt the team could do more to avoid needing those late changes and heroics: “We are building our team, and doing that way that we are never giving up at any point of the game. It’s a good sign that we can turn the games at the end of the [game]. But at the same time, that we should do better at home and have some goals [scored] early on.”

But Oluwaseyi perfectly illustrates the build-up. Like a younger (faster) Pukki, he works the final third and runs the wings, but always comes back to the box, squared up in front of the net. And that is exactly what he did on Saturday.

“He [Tani Oluwaseyi] has a sense of where to be if you want to score the goals,” Lod said. “The good thing is that he always stays inside the frame. So, there is the place where the goals come. He’s been really good and I’m happy for him.”

“I saw Robin [Lod] take the touch and my mindset was to try to stay onside and I had a feeling he [Lod] was going to get a shot off,” said Oluwaseyi. “The only thing I was thinking was I’m going to get a touch before the goalie does, glad to be there in the right position to get a touch and score a goal. Just stuck my leg out. Hassani [Dotson] calls me ‘big toe’, so it paid off here, I got a toe in there.”

It hasn’t gone to his head. Oluwaseyi is there to do the job – whatever the coaches say that is – and knows there is a bench full of players ready to take his place. Even as the “Tani Time” moniker gains traction with each impactful substitution, he knows it about more than scoring:

“The biggest thing for me is less about scoring and just about helping the team out, whatever it needs. Whether it’s defending, whether it’s attacking. If someone is out of position, getting back for them. That’s kind of my mindset coming onto the field just whatever way I can help the team, whatever the coaching staff ask me to do, I just want to be able to go onto the field and execute exactly that.”

When 6 of 15 total eight-word reactions are about officials…


The call most likely to be reviewed by Major League Soccer is Joseph Rosales’ second yellow – and subsequent ejection – in the 89′ (6:14 in this highlight reel). Rosales was one of the best players on the pitch in the first half, regularly going one-on-one with Gómez down the sideline and corner to corner. Rosales was the first player to be booked (YC 40′) and the only one in the first half, but his second yellow, drawn in the lead-up to a Minnesota cornerkick, was hardly worthy of a card, let alone a second for “poor sportsmanship”. If anything, it’s a yellow for Eneli for simulation. (Repeated warnings may give officials more license to reach for a yellow but these are typically still worthy of a yellow on their own.)

And yet, despite the adversity, Minnesota United FC remains in the upper tier of the Western Conference table. There is a lot of soccer left to play, a lot of opportunities to improve, a lot of pieces (one or two more?) to add or shuffle around. Late-game heroics add hope with a couple dozen matches left to play.

Next up: MN United FC hosts another Western Conference foe, Houston Dynamo, on Saturday, April 13.



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