All Along the Draw Tower: The Ups and Downs of MNUFC vs. LA Galaxy

Minnesota United midfielder Kervin Arriaga (33) celebrates after scoring a goal during the match against the LA Galaxy at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Wednesday night began a busy set of five games in 18 days for Minnesota United FC. The last time the LA Galaxy came to Allianz Field, the Loons won 5-2 and prevented the Galaxy from qualifying for the 2023 playoffs.

This time MNUFC and LA Galaxy played a back-and-forth, close match befitting two teams tied on points near the top of the Western Conference table. Bongokuhle Hlongwane scored first for Minnesota. LA came back with two second-half goals. The Loons earned a 2-2 draw after Kervin Arriaga scored a header off a corner kick.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

As May is Mental Health Awareness month, Wednesday’s match was Mental Health Awareness night at Allianz Field, presented by Allina Health. Several players on the stadium video board talked about mental health. MNUFC also partnered with two local non-profits.

Open The Door, Homer

Top: Minnesota Soccer Spotlight / Allina Health and logo, Middle: Allina Health is proud to partner with Minnesota United in developing a thriving soccer community in Minnesota. We believe the

Rory O’Driscoll, Manny Lagos, and Patrick Weah pose in front of the new Minnesota Soccer Spotlight wall. (Photo by Matthew Johnson, Northland Soccer Journal)

Before kickoff, members of MNUFC gathered at a new wall display: Minnesota Soccer Spotlight. One section, “Homegrowns”, features Fred Emmings (St. Paul), Patrick Weah (Maple Grove), and Devin Padelford (Maplewood). A larger section titled “MNUFC Players From Minnesota” includes the three homegrown players as well as Caden Clark (Medina), Loïc Mesanvi (Lakeville), Kage Romanshyn Jr. (Apple Valley), and Rory O’Driscoll (Minneapolis).

Patrick Weah said, “It means a lot,” followed by, “just being from here, coming to the games and seeing people play and being a fan of it, and the club gives you your first professional opportunity? [I’m] just grateful for it.”

Rory O’Driscoll played his youth soccer at Minneapolis United, which is listed on the wall. NSJ also asked him to comment on his time with Minneapolis City SC: “City is a sweet club, like a great community club. So my brother Aiden played there for a long time and he kind of molded me into it, and I wanted to be a part of it as well.” O’Driscoll later added, “When I was playing there, I really enjoyed myself. Matt [Van Benschoten] is a great person, good coach, and they just know how to make great people and great players.”

Chief Development Office and Senior Technical Advisor Manny Lagos was also on hand. He credited former Minnesota Thunder teammate, and current MNUFC Vice President of Youth Development, Amos Magee for the idea. Lagos expressed, “For a Minnesotan like me that has developed here like Amos, to kind of see this come to fruition is super special.”

When asked about connections between Lagos’ era of Minnesota soccer and the players today, Lagos hoped his generation were an inspiration: “Well, I hope it gets connected by the fact some kids may look at St. Paul Blackhawks [points to the crest under Fred Emmings name], which was the club of me, Amos Magee, and Tony Sanneh, the careers we had. They watch the game, and they see the inspiration of what it means. I hope that sort of sparked them to love [the game], train hard, and become Minnesota United players.”

On Wednesday, MNUFC also promoted the Futsal Society, who uses coffee sales and fundraisers to provide a free alternative to club soccer.

One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) the Starting XIs

MNUFC vs LA Galaxy Starting XI Front 3: Sang Bin, Oluwaseyi, Hlongwane Mid 2: Lod, Trapp Back 5: Rosaels, Tapias, Boxall, Arriaga, Taylor GK: St. Clair Subs: Irwin, Bran, Clark, Eriksson, Fragapane, Harvey, Padelford, Pukki, Valentin
Note: Boxall played in the middle centerback spot and Arriaga played at right center back, consistent with the previous matches.

Several of us in the press box discussed the days are gone when one could predict MNUFC’s Starting XIs and formation. However unpredictable, Eric Ramsay’s squad rotation and shifting formations have the Loons in second place in the West, off to their best start in MLS history.

Eric Ramsay lined up MNUFC in their 5-2-3 that shifts to 5-4-1 in defense and sometimes morphs into a 3-4-3 in attack. Joseph Rosales moved back to the left fullback after being used as a left wing in Atlanta. DJ Taylor continued his string of starts at right fullback. Eric Ramsay said that Taylor is a “incredibly reliable, consistent player, [who] has taken really big steps forward. Not often is he found wanting defensively, incredibly energetic, really good runner and athlete. You’re seeing us produce a good number of chances from his side. That’s credit to him, it shows in how often he’s been used, how rarely he finds himself as a sub. He’s an incredibly valuable player for us, and obviously moving forward really well for us.”

NSJ asked Kervin Arriaga about what it’s like to play between Michael Boxall and DJ Taylor. Through PR Manager and Spanish Translator Marleine Calderón, the Honduran explained, “With Boxy [Michael Boxall], I try to learn the best from him. He is a great player and a great captain. With DJ [Taylor] the communication is always there. I don’t speak English, but I understand the basics that are being yelled at me by my teammates on the field. It was the first thing that I learned when I arrived because it was what I needed to do to have good communication with them on the field.”

Bongokuhle Hlongwane made his first start since April 14 when the Loons lost at home to Houston. When asked if he prefers to be on the right, he replied, “I’ve been playing there this week. They [coaching staff] had been telling me while preparing for the game that I was the [right] wing. I had a good week preparing for this game.”

Starting XI presented by Modelo LA @ MIN GK: 77 McCarthy Back 4: 2 Yamane 4 Yoshida (Captain) 22 Cáceres 14 Nelson Mid 3: 8 Delgado 5 Brugman 10 Puig Front 3: 11 Pec 28 Paintsil 27 Berry SUBS: Mićović, Aude, Cuevas, Neal, Zavaleta, Auirre, Cerrillo, Fagúndez, Joveljić

Greg Vanney had LA Galaxy line up in their typical 4-3-3. No surprise that attacking players Ricardo “Riqui” Puig, Joseph Paintsil, and Gabriel Pec all started.

The surprise was Miguel Berry, who scored a late equalizer over the weekend against Real Salt Lake. He started at striker over Dejan Joveljić. The Serbian did admit to not being 100%: “I didn’t train ten days, and I played almost 70 minutes against Real Lake. I was feeling very good that game,” but the coaches thought, “It’s better to start this game from the bench.”

At training this week, Michael Boxall said, “They were busy in the winter, got them some high-profile players.” Chicharito is in Guadalajara, but the Galaxy in the off season transferred in Gabriel Pec from Vasco da Gama (Brazil) and Joseph Paintsil from Genk (Belgium). Those two attackers, with Puig and Joveljić, have produced plenty of goals and assists this year.

Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall (15) dribbles the ball while LA Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig (10) chases during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Tani Oluwaseyi was fouled outside the 18-yard box around the 16th minute. With right-footed Sang Bin and left-footed Rosales behind the ball, the other Loons mostly flocked on their right. Naturally, GK John McCarthy stood more to his left side of the net. After Rosales hit the free kick, instead of curling right towards his teammates, the ball headed toward the upper left corner, which forced a running, leaping save from McCarthy.

Mixed-Up Confusion, BongiTime Edition

In the 30th minute, Rosales took a corner from the left side. Robin Lod got a foot on the ball, but the ball sailed backwards and high. Bongokuhle Hlongwane handled the ball drop more effortlessly than Times Square on New Year’s Eve, rerouting the round bouncing ball past the pursuing Puig. Off the bounce, the South African shot a banger off the crossbar. While initially ruled not a goal, VAR and the center referee eventually resolved the mix up and ruled the ball fully crossed. Thanks to Bongi’s third goal of the season, the Loons were in the lead 1-0.

Hlongwane said, “I saw it go in, but the center ref was late because he couldn’t see if it was a goal or not. But, I can see from the VAR that the ball went in.”

Bongokuhle Hlongwane shoots and scores assisted by R. Lod in the 30th minute of the game.

Like A Rolling Stone

Immediately to start the second half, Robin Lod hit Hlongwane in the center of the pitch. Hlongane played a quick ball up to DJ Taylor who dribbled into the 18-yard box and centered the ball. Tani Oluwaseyi attempted a cheeky trailing backheel touch, but the ball rolled well wide of McCarthy’s net.

Changing of the Guards

Greg Vanney went to the bench first. In the 52nd minute, Diego Fagúndez came in for the limping Joseph Paintsil. Vanney later explained Paintsil had “some hamstring tightness.” In the 59th minute, the more experienced Dejan Joveljić subbed on for Berry. LA Galaxy’s attack already looked better in the second half with quicker, shorter passes leading to a hard Pec shot that Dayne St. Clair saved.

Eric Ramsay responded with three substitutions of his own in the 60th minute: Teemu Pukki for Tani Oluwaseyi, Franco Fragapane for Sang Bin Jeong, and Caden Clark for Bongokuhle Hlongwane.

“Obviously, we are conscious of managing a squad over the course of not just these two games, but we want to go into June with players having minutes in their legs. I don’t want to have to suddenly start drawing on guys who haven’t been playing and be very reliant on them over the course of two months. We’ve got good momentum over the course of the last four games in terms of minutes across 15-17 players. Partly, that is why we changed the three players in 60 minutes; partly it was due to the fact that you did feel we had a bit of a lull at that point. If we could change the front three players, perhaps that would give us a bit of energy, and it did to an extent. But also that was probably the point at which the game became a little loose [defensively]. — Eric Ramsay

Watching the Galaxy Flow

Less than one minute after all the substitutions, LA Galaxy tied it up 1-1 after a combined effort to progress the ball up the right side. Puig eventually hit Pec on a through ball. Pec’s well timed run had him behind Miguel Tapias and Michael Boxall and he passed to Joveljić who finished on the weak side. Joveljić and St. Clair were both celebrating their 100th matches for their clubs in all competitions, but the Serbian got the better of the Loons goalkeeper.

After the game, Dejan Joveljić explained his goal, but blamed himself for St. Clair getting the better of him later in the game:

“A lot of people are gonna say that the goals I’m scoring are easy. So first of all, it’s not easy to be in that position. Secondly, it’s not easy to score even though it looks so easy. It bounced weird, but I managed to hit the ball well and then to score that. But the second ball maybe it was even easier. And my head’s up, I said already I need to shift to the left side, and I had open goal. Position from the goalkeeper was not good, but he got lucky.”

Vanney thought LA Galaxy’s first half had too much forcing through balls “from half field” up the middle: “In the first half, I felt like we were creating actions to try to play that one pass that was going to open up the game.” He further explained, “Every time we looked to play that type of pass, we were either offsides, or we hit somebody with the pass.”

Vanney relayed his solution: “We knew they were stepping out of the line pretty aggressively, and I felt like if we could keep the ball moving and play a little bit more in combination, that the spaces for us to run through and to play through would open up and become a little bit more visible for us.”

Ramsay had this to say about Riqui Puig: “It’s very difficult to predict where he’s going to pop up. I assume he’s given the liberty to read the game as he sees it. And you can see him receiving the ball from the central defenders, and you can see him taking the ball off the number nine in the same move.” The coach then focused on improvements, “It’s really difficult to say, in a concrete way, how you are going to deal with him. As a principle, you are not going to give space away. And the second you do give space away, then obviously they’re going to cause you huge problems. In order for us to be really dominant across the whole game, we needed to be very disciplined for longer than we were, which is frustrating.”

Everything is Broken

Less than ten minutes after Joveljić’s goal, Riqui Puig pushed the ball up on the lonnnnnng dribble. Boxall stepped but leaves Fagúndez to do so. By the time Arriaga rotated back to over Fagúndez, the Uruguayan had put the visitors up 2-1. The speed of LA’s counter and their talented front four attackers broke MNUFC’s last line of defense.

“I’m really frustrated because it’s a game we felt we had complete control over at halftime. Obviously, the message to the players at that point is if you can replicate that play with the same level of control, intensity, and discipline that we did in the first half, there’s absolutely no way we’re not winning that game. I just felt we have taken our foot off their neck in a sense, in the second half. We’ve let the game become too open.” — Eric Ramsay

Minnesota United head coach Eric Ramsay shouts out instructions during the match against the LA Galaxy at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Around minutes 76-77, Vanney used his third and final substitution window to sub on three defensive players for attackers. He mentioned that several factors went into this decision including the busy MLS schedule: “We wanted to be mindful of not trying to risk people and overplay people, but still try to win the game.” He also mentioned tactical concerns: “We wanted to close some of those spaces that they were running through. By going to five [at the back] and get a little bit bigger for set pieces.”

Speaking of set pieces . . .

Tangled Up in Black and Blue

In the 80th minute, Rosales took a corner kick from the right. The high ball went over most players in the 6-yard box to find the head of Kervin Arriaga. Arriaga headed the ball into the net, which made it two games in a row that the Loons scored off a Honduran-to-Honduran corner kick.

Arriaga was asked if it’s special because the goal involves two Contrachos [Honduran nationals]: “Yes, it’s the unity [between us]. From the moment I got to the club, I was welcomed well. He [Joseph Rosales] is the one who taught me the circumstances of the club. We have formed a beautiful alliance, beyond us both being Hondurans, but [also] as teammates” [translated by Calderón].

Minnesota United midfielder Kervin Arriaga (33) scores a goal off a header during the match against the LA Galaxy at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Hlongwane praised Rosales’ on corner kicks: “For us, it meant a lot because he’s [Joseph Rosales] been sending in a good ball in training, because we know they’ve given up maybe 10 goals on set plays. Today, we were able to score on the set piece.”

On both goals coming from corner kicks, Ramsay commented: “There’s a lot of detail put into it that I won’t give away here. You can’t look past the fact that we got good delivery on both sides, and we got players in the box who have real desperation to score. And that’s the basis of a team that is going to be good from set plays. We of course work on it and approach in a very purposeful way, but there is momentum in that sense. And we’ll be a team that’s a real threat across not just corners but on throw-ins and wide free kicks. It’s a really good trait to have as a team.”


Rosales’ assist and play on both sides of the ball earned him a spot on the bench for MLS Team of the Matchday 14. Rosales also made Team of the Matchday 11 for his assist in the run-of-play to not-offside Oluwaseyi in Charlotte. While Rosales might want his fútbol to do the talking, a new haircut was loud enough for Kervin Arriaga to have some fun. Prompted by a question from the media, Arriaga joked about Rosales. Via Calderón, he quipped, “I think he’s ugly and with that hair even more ugly.”

Minnesota United midfielder Joseph Rosales (8) crosses the ball before LA Galaxy midfielder Mark Delgado (8) can block it during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Arriaga also described Rosales’ service on set pieces as “Good — the truth is that during the course of the week, we have spoken on where to shoot, and according to him I owe him $100, since it’s $50 for every goal.”

It was a tale of two halves. Minnesota looked dominant in the first half. Despite not having the majority of possession, the Loons allowed zero shots on goal. LA Galaxy passed much more quickly to spring counters in the second half. Ramsay was both realistic about his team’s performance and disappointed: “There was going to be a momentum swing. I think it’s the nature of the league. It’s the nature of the match up with us and them. It’s very, very difficult to have 90 minutes of what we had for 45 minutes. I accepted that, but I think we were just too loose in the second half. We became too ill-disciplined. We gave up three chances that ordinarily we wouldn’t give away, so that’s the frustrating thing from my perspective.”

Who should have won? That depends on who you ask. Bongokuhle Hlongwane said, “The way we played [in the] first half and the second half, we created more chances in the first half than the second half. [However} we were able to create the whole game. We should have won the game by maybe four or five [goals].”

Yet, Dejan Joveljić said before taking questions, “First of all, I want to say that we should have won this game. In the first half actually, I thought that it’s going to be impossible to win here, as we couldn’t create anything. But in the second half, game just opens up and we had everything: 2-1 for us.”

Kervin Arriaga saw the good and the bad: taking the lead and then letting up. Calderón translated, “I don’t know, it’s part of the game. We relaxed a bit thinking we had won the game already, but the game lasts 90 minutes. It’s errors that we are committing and things we need to improve on because despite those errors, the team has the attitude to see the games out and not lose them.”

The 2-2 draw snaps MNUFC’s three-game winning streak. The one point allows Minnesota United to remain in second place behind Real Salt Lake with 21 points anf two games in hand. However, not getting all three points at home means they remain tied on points with three other teams: LAFC, Colorado, and LA Galaxy. MNUFC is unbeaten in the last four MLS matches. The last time LA Galaxy won in Minnesota was August of 2021.


A whirlwind of MNUFC matches close out May and start June. This Saturday the Loons host the 11th place Portland Timbers at Allianz Field at 7:30 pm CT. If you want to see this Loons squad, don’t be left Blowin’ in the Wind. As a musician born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing, and now lives near Malibu Beach sang, Step It Up and Go!


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