One Night in Loonland: MNUFC Defeats SKC 2-1

Minnesota United forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane (21) dribbles the ball through Sporting Kansas City defense at the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Just Friends

Minnesota versus Kansas City has been called the “Nicest Rivalry” in sports. Soccer fans Kat and LJ Panas moved to St. Paul from Kansas City and explained that while they have witnessed supporters of both clubs being friendly and nice at Black Hart before and after games, the play on the pitch has been physical and definitely “not nice.”

The last time the Loons won a Nicest Rivalry was October 31, 2021 at Allianz Field. They have lost the last four consecutive matches to Sporting Kansas City. However, on Saturday, April 27, 2024, Minnesota United FC broke that four-game losing streak.

Last week in Charlotte, the Loons looked dominant, controlling both sides of the ball to a 3-0 win. This week, Kansas City controlled much of the possession, but Minnesota hung on to win 2-1.

Starting XIs

MNUFC Starting XI vs SKC Front 3: Fragapane, Pukki, Oluwaseyi Mid 2: Trapp, Lod Back 5: Rosales, Padelford, Boxall, Arriaga, Taylor GK: St. Clair

Back Home Blues: MNUFC

Up to this point, the Loons only had one home victory this season: the 2-0 win against LAFC back on March 17. However, last week they broke their three-game winless streak by beating Charlotte FC. Building on formation ideas from Charlotte, Eric Ramsay continued with five at the back with Kervin Arriaga as third centerback. With Hassani Dotson out with a hamstring issue, Ramsay had to adjust the midfield. Instead of a 5-4-1, the formation resembled more of a 5-3-2 in defense as Franco Fragapane dropped to the midfield alongside Wil Trapp and Robin Lod. In attack, the Loons looked like a 5-2-3 — or more often in 3-4-3 with both fullbacks moving up.

More significantly, Ramsay started both strikers Teemu Pukki and Tani Oluwaseyi. Andy Greder reported that Ramsay was asked about this scenario on Tuesday. The coach answered, “It’s something that is sort of lurking away in the background. They are two very good players, both who have very different strengths. That is an obvious way that we could go to get them both on the pitch. But it’s sort of working out how we look behind that, whether that is in certain phases of particular games or whether it’s from the start of games.” Later the coach summarized, “There [are] many ways we could get them both on the pitch. We just got to work that out.”

On the bench were two Loons that played in Portland for MNUFC2 last week: midfielder Carlos Harvey and goalkeeper Alec Smir. Harvey scored a hat trick in Portland and made his first-team MNUFC debut as sub on Saturday. When asked if the Harvey hat trick earned his inclusion, Ramsay replied, “Of course that [Carlos Harvey’s second team success] contributes. You are sort of waiting for people to put their hand up and say, ‘It’s impossible to not pick me and not involve me from this point on.’ Obviously that contributes. He has also had a longer-than-we-would’ve-liked path toward finding full fitness. So that’s a credit to him that he has managed to do so in the last three weeks or so. He has been training with us more often, and we were sort of waiting for a chance to get him in the game. And he handled himself really well, so it’s nice to get the debut out of the way.”

Goalkeeper Alec Smir was signed to a Short-Term Agreement to be on the first-team bench this weekend. Ramsay explained, “Clint [Irwin] picked up a bit of a groin strain on Friday, so more precautionary than anything.”

SKC Starting XI at MIN S: Agada AM: Sallói, Pulido, Thommy DM: Radoja, Walter Back 4: Leibold, Fontàs, Rosero, Pierre GK: Melia

K.C. Blues: Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City have struggled at home recently too: drawing nearby rivals St. Louis City, losing to Inter Miami, and drawing the Portland Timbers. Peter Vermes kept his standard 4-2-3-1. Johnny Russell has had the most SKC goals (5) and assists (10) in the Nicest Derby. However, according to KC Soccer Journal, “Vermes says Russell isn’t close to 90 minutes fit yet.” Russell has been used mostly as a spark off the bench for striker Willy Agada or one of the wings. Despite SKC’s record, the dynamic front four have contributed to the attack. Prior to this match, Erik Thommy, Willy Agada, and Alan Pulido had combined for a total of 10 goals in 2024; Agada and Dániel Sallói had 2 assists each.

On SKC’s defensive struggles this season, Ramsay remarked, “There [are] obviously some gaps there that we can exploit, but they’re also a team that based upon their coach’s history will always come good.”

SKC supporter LJ Panas echoed this: “Even when the Loons have been at their greatest and SKC very much not, somehow SKC still seem to show up for those matches.”

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Erik Thommy (26) checks on Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall (15) after Boxall took a direct free kick to the head at the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Early Boxall Gets the Worm

An early Joseph Rosales shot earned a corner kick. Rosales took an outswinger. Robin Lod made a near-post run and headed the ball toward the far post. Although the ball was too high for Teemu Pukki, Michael Boxall connected and scored less than 2 minutes after kickoff.

When asked about the goal, Boxall first humorously pretended like the situation was more calculated: “[sarcastically] Robin [Lod] gave me a shout, and he must have seen me making the back post run and flicked it. [seriously] No, I just think when the ball goes to that near post, if it’s going to get flicked-on, it’s going to end up more or less on that back post. [I] just made that run, put the big size 12 in the way and pretty simple finish from a foot or two out.”

Sporting Kansas City forward Willy Agada (23) dribbles the ball with Minnesota United midfielder Kervin Arriaga (33) defending at the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Little Willy Leaps — or the ball leapt

In the 7th minute, Kansas City countered with fullback Tim Leibold down the left, who sent a long bending ball around Arriaga and Boxall to Willy Agada. Agada’s shot went high into the Brew Hall stands.

Now’s the Tani Time

In the 25th minute, Minnesota completed a series of quick passes on the left which resulted in Rosales sliding the ball across the goal to where Tani Oluwaseyi had an easy tap in.

“A lot of credit goes to the guys before me from Rob [Robin Lod], to Wil [Trapp], to Joe [Joseph Rosales] or even [Teemu] Pukki stopping and not getting that ball, realizing he’s offside: big credits to them. And for me, it was harder to miss than to score there. So, I just did my part and put it in the back of the net.” — Tani Oluwaseyi

Oluwaseyi celebrated with pushups on the pitch, which he later explained, “It was a reference to a Drake song”: “Push Ups (Drop and give me 50).” With a goal from a set piece and the run of play the Loons were off to a fast 2-0 start.

Minnesota United forward Tani Oluwaseyi (14) and Sporting Kansas City defender Dany Rosero (5) jump for a header at the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)


After the game, SKC coach Peter Vermes was not happy about Oluwaseyi’s goal and thought it was offside: “The game shouldn’t have been 2-0 to begin with. It should have only been 1 [goal], and I’ll show you. [holds up tablet] Yeah, look right here. If you look where Dany [Rosero] is and where their player is, it’s easy to see. It’s so easy to see. Look at the line. Look where the player is when he hits the ball. He’s offsides. There is no way VAR should miss that. That is completely unacceptable. That is a missed play.”


The SoccerPhotogrammetry account tried to settle the debate:

Coach Ramsay was level-headed: “I’ve only seen the replay on the stadium screen and it did look very close. I don’t know which way [was] right or which way [was] wrong. I’m sure over the course of the season, you’ll get an even balance of some that go for you and some that don’t. So we were fortunate today.”

Oluwaseyi shared, “You’re always a little bit nervous. Especially in the age of VAR, you never really know what’s going to stand and what’s not. While it’s going on, you’re not realizing if you’re offside or not in the moment. You’re just playing. So you just have to wait, put it in the hands of the ref, and wait from there, and they cleared it.”

Flat Foot Floogie

Toward the end of the first half, SKC found more attacking chances, often by lofting balls over the Loons back 5 and making onside runs. In one such instance, SKC hit a deep ball over the top to Dániel Sallóí, who one-touched it diagonally to Pulido. Several Loons responded to the threat, and one of them may have deflected the ball’s trajectory. Regardless, Pulido got his third goal of 2024 and cut the Loons lead to 2-1.

At half time, the Loons held on to a 2-1 lead, but SKC had figured out how to get behind Minnesota’s broad back five.

Ramsey admitted, “After 15 or 20 minutes, we found that [getting pressure on the ball] very difficult to do. So the nature of playing the way we play with two forwards, sometimes you do find it difficult to cover the width of the pitch, once you get pinned in a little bit, which was the case for us. We fortunately managed to get to halftime and obviously made a couple changes which were to the benefit of the team.”

What’s New

At the start of the second half, Ramsay subbed in Caden Clark for Pukki and Bongokuhle Hlongwane for Fragapane. Clark positioned on the left wing and Bongi on the right to give the Loons more width in 5-4-1 defense, more similar to their formation in Charlotte. This allowed Minnesota a stronger defensive shape, but Kansas City kept attacking.

The Loons continued to demonstrate the versatility of their players when centerback Miguel Tapias made his first appearance since that March 17 win against LAFC. When he subbed on for Oluwaseyi, Rosales moved to left midfield and Padelford slid over to left fullback. Bongi moved to the striker roll, and the Loons kept their 5-4-1.

On Tapias being back, Boxall commented:

“Great! I mean it’s kind of a tough back line to break into when you’ve got Devin [Padelford] stepping up as he is. But I think competition’s great. It’s going to keep everyone on their toes and keep pushing, make sure we pick up a few more clean sheets. But honestly, it’s great to see him back after being out for a few weeks with an injury.”

As the Loons focused on defense, Vermes subbed on attackers: Johnny Russell in the 62nd minute and Khiry Shelton in the 70th minute. In the 79th minute, off a Kansas City free kick, Dany Rosero got forward and headed the ball. Dayne St. Clair didn’t have to move much, but he was in the right position and made the save on a hard header.

Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (97) contests a throw-in call at the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Un Poquito de Tu Amor

Toward the end of the game, Ramsay subbed on two young midfielders in Carlos Harvey at the 80th minute and Alejandro Bran in stoppage time. Harvey and Caden Clark both exhibited a few counterattacks, using their speed to keep the ball out of the Loons’ defensive half. Bran helped solidify the defensive block in the final minutes.

The Loons won 2-1, but Ramsay’s first answer post game focused on the tension between how a team plays versus the results of the game: “I think it’s difficult for me to stand here or stand in front of the players after the home games that we that we don’t win, but we play well in and look like the team we want to look like and then stand up here today and say, ‘Performance is irrelevant. And we’ve got three points, and we move on,’ because that’s not how we want to win games at home. We want to be the dominant team. We don’t want to feel like we’re on the back foot for large periods, which was the case today.”

He then explained some pitfalls of scoring early: “But I do feel like the slight caveat is probably that when you do score as early as we score, it’s then suddenly very difficult to go again and be the front foot team. And then suddenly, when we’re two-nil up, it almost feels like we sink, and we’re in a protect-the-lead mode, which is not the way in which we want to play. I think we largely benefited in the opening stages from the way in which we set up, but then it became very clear after half an hour or so that we were sort of really struggling to get to grips with the system defensively.”

I Get a Kick Out of Stats

Minnesota had only 41.9% possession and considerably less in the second half. SKC had 624 passes to Minnesota’s 367. The total shots were similar: Minnesota had 9 to Kansas City’s 8, but the shots on goal were dominated by MNUFC 5-2.

“The last two results kind of speak for themselves, especially tonight with the lack of chances or lack of saves that Dayne [St. Clair] had to make, or big chances that he had to make, I thought Joseph [Rosales] was outstanding. Devin [Padelford] was great. Kervin [Arriaga] obviously a little bit out of position, but he looks like a natural there. DJ [Taylor] obviously excellent again. But, just a lot of work for everyone in front of us when we can’t get our wing backs higher and on the ball and play, keep playing how we played in that first 20 minutes, for longer stretches.” — Michael Boxall

Ramsay’s observations also agreed with these stats: “I was glad to be able to hang on to halftime, make some changes. and I think looked far more solid in the second half. and albeit we didn’t have the amount of possession that we wanted to have. We didn’t have the control of the game we wanted to have. I think when you look back into the sort of cold light of day and you pour over the statistics, we did limit them to very little. So I’m pleased in that sense that we’ve got a nice default that we can fall to if we’re not playing well, that we can shut up shop to an extent, but obviously we don’t want to be that team too many times again here.”

Other stats of note: Boxall’s goal at 1:05 was the second fastest goal in club history. Lod and Rosales both recorded assists on the two MNUFC goals; Lod leads the Loons with seven assists. Tani Oluwaseyi now leads all Loons with four goals and has scored in back-to-back starts. For Loons players that have played more than 90 minutes, Michael Boxall leads the team in Passes Attempted (380), Passing Accuracy (87.9%), and Clearances (34).

A capo in the Wonderwall celebrates after Minnesota United defeated Sporting KC by a score of 2-1 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Ramsay did not hesitate to thank the fans as part of the equation: “We were also the beneficiaries of a phenomenal set of fans that can really drive the team home, which I felt was genuinely the 12th man today. I don’t think we would have gotten through it without them behind us. The fact the opposition turned us around in the beginning was probably to their downfall by the end because it did feel like once we bedded in for the last 15 minutes that they were going to drive us home, that was really pleasing.”

Minnesota United players Tani Oluwaseyi (14) and Alec Smir (30) jump up in front of the Wonderwall after defeating Sporting KC by a score of 2-1 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Groovin’ High

The win improves MNUFC’s record to 5-2-2 (W-L-D) and moves them from 5th place to 4th in the West. Their 17 points are tied with third-place Vancouver, with the Canadian side having the better goal differential (+8 versus +5).

On Saturday, May 4, MNUFC travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to confront fellow 2017-expansion side Atlanta United. Will anyone want to watch that game? As the title of a 1948 Charlie Parker song goes, “Perhaps.” For sure Northland Soccer will watch. You should too, and stay tuned for more soccer content to come.


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