The Way of the Yellow Card: Minnesota United Loses to Austin FC

Gyasi Zardes and Michal Boxall during an MLS match between Minnesota United and Austin FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (Photo by Tim McLaughlin)

A little rain must fall on every MLS team from time to time. Saturday night, June 22, the sky was dark and foggy. Many parts of Minnesota received record rainfall earlier in the week through the weekend. Flooding closed businesses and roads in both southeast and northeast Minnesota. The February MLS season opener, in which Minnesota United FC went to Austin, TX and won, seems a long way back. When Austin FC came to St. Paul this past Saturday, they handed the Loons their third straight loss.

“One-to-one problem, yes. Five-to-one problem, too much ask anyone.” Miyagi said nothing about XI-to-XI problem.

Eric Ramsay again used his 5-4-1 formation that often shifts to a 3-4-3 or 5-2-3. Kervin Arriaga returned after missing the last match for “personnel reasons.” Sang Bin Jeong started at striker with Teemu Pukki out with a knee injury and Tani Oluwaseyi with Canada for Copa América. Dayne St. Clair is also with the Canadian national team, so Clint Irwin started his third straight match in goal.

Josh Wolff used a 4-4-2 formation instead of Austin’s usual 4-2-3-1 without #10 Sebastián Driussi. Wolff said post game that they lost Driussi “hours before the game.” When Phil West of Verde All Day asked about hearing other broadcasters saying it was a virus, not a injury, Wolff confirmed, “Yeah it was more in that space, so nothing soccer related.”

Coach Wolff summarized their formation and tactics: “They’re in a 5-2-3, and I think again, it’s how we think we can exploit them. I think we did a good job early on in the game. We have two strikers [Gyasi Zardes and Diego Rubio] that can occupy the line. With your wingers occupying the line, that’s four guys; and Obi [Jáder Obrian] and Ethan [Finlay] can stretch it, which we did a good job. I thought [fullbacks] Johnny [Jon Gallagher] and [Guilherme] Birro adjusted their heights, positioned to do well. And Owen [Wolff] and Alex [Ring] did a real good job controlling the game in the middle of field” in the first 20, 30 minutes of the game.”

“Strike First”

In the 3rd minute, Bongokuhle Hlongwane was whistled for a pushing Jonathan Gallagher in the back. No card would be shown, but the physical tone was set early.

After the match, Diego Rubio said of the chippiness, “They’re a physical team. We know. We play against them in the first game of the year, and it was very physical at our home. So we knew we had to match that first, and we all did.”

Referee Drew Fischer during an MLS match between Minnesota United and Austin FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (Photo by Tim McLaughlin)

“Sweep the leg”

While Minnesota attempted to set up a high press in the 12th minute, Miguel Tapias arrived late to challenge Diego Rubio. Tapias’ attempt to kick the ball swept Rubio off his feet. Despite the dashing gesture, there seemed to be little romance between the two players. Drew Fischer handed out his first yellow card of the match to the MNUFC centerback.

“Strike Hard” ?

In the 25th minute, Hassani Dotson tried to slide tackle the ball as Zardes charged up the left sideline. Zardes appeared to step on Dotson’s extended leg and go down. Drew Fischer handed out his second yellow card of the night.

“No Mercy” from referee Drew Fischer

In the 26th minute, Michael Boxall passed the ball up to Dotson. The ball rolled off Dotson’s left insole, toward his heel, and between his legs. Zardes pressed and pounced on the loose ball. Dotson turned to shield Zardes from the ball. Zardes went headfirst to pursue the ball through Dotson, but Dotson does a swim move to get free. To the referee, and to this writer, it looked like Dotson shoved Zardes to the ground. Referee Drew Fischer gave no further warnings, and showed a second yellow card and red card to Dotson. Minnesota United were channeling Cobra Kai, but Drew Fischer is the one that showed no mercy.

Wil Trapp was asked about the yellow cards early in the match. “Look, I think it’s one where when you set the precedent early yellow cards the way they come out, now you toe the line of potentially having to make make-or-break calls that changed the entire game.”

Trapp later pointed out how Tapias’ early yellow card may have influenced referee Drew Fischer going forward: “Drew is a great referee. I think sometimes that’s the way he felt like, whether it was Mickey’s tackle that set the tone with the first yellow card, that he wanted to just call things a bit — but again, it changes everything.”

“Wouldn’t a fly swatter be easier?”

In the 31st minute, Jon Gallagher sent a looping ball into the 6-yard box. Zardes leapt to head the ball, but Clint Irwin came out and pushed the ball before Zardes could get to it. Unfortunately for the Loons, the ball was pushed forward directly toward Diego Rubio, who scored between Boxall and Tapias.

On the goal, Ramsay said, ” Clint’s really disappointed with that one. I’m sure he’d be the first to say that, that he would like to deal with that better. I think it’s one of the few opportunities we really gave them over the course of the game of any real note. So it’s disappointing to have lost it in that way, given the circumstances wrapped around that. But again, Clint’s done a really good job for us since he stood-in in really difficult circumstances.”:

This was Diego Rubio’s fourth goal of the season but first since April. Rubio remarked, “It’s good to score again.” The half ended 0-1 in favor of the visitors.

When NSJ asked about tactical changes after the red card and at half time, Ramsay explained, “We ended up playing with two lines of four and a single forward. And then quickly halftime changes, playing with a front two: Bongi and Sang Bin to start with, and I think it helped us.”

Wax Players on, Wax Players off

As DJ Taylor as he dribbled up the pitch, left wing Jáder Obrian tripped the right back from behind. Fischer handed Obrian a yellow card, the first to Austin FC. Less than 10 minutes later, CJ Fodrey would replace Obrian. Minnesota would sub Caden Clark for Taylor and Fragapane for Hlongwane.

MNUFC defender Caden Clark (37) is fouled by Austin FC forward CJ Fodrey at the Minnesota United FC vs Austin FC MLS match on Saturday, June 22, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Less than 1 minute after subbing on, Fodrey pushed Caden Clark in the back. Fodrey received a yellow card. It felt like Fodrey and Clark picked up where Obrian and Taylor left off. Fortunately for Austin, Obrian’s yellow card doesn’t transfer to Fodrey on the substitution.

Both teams had chances. in the second half. Fodrey sent in a ball the Irwin caught. Austin didn’t get much power off a corner kick, but Irwin made the save. At the other end, Lod would hit Arriaga, whose shot was cleared. Joseph Rosales and Fragapane both had shots from the left. Sang Bin Jeong had two shots late in the half. All Loons attempts went off frame or were stopped by Brad Stuver.

Minnesota United forward Sang Bin Jeong (11) takes a shot at the Minnesota United FC vs Austin FC MLS match on Saturday, June 22, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Minnesota United had the better attacks in the second half. Ramsay commented,

“At our very best, we are a dynamic team, and we’ve showed that in the second half in spite of the situation. And that’s what we want from our forwards: we want them to be running on the back line relentlessly. We want to play forward quickly; we don’t want to be overly patient. And we did that to really good effect, albeit it didn’t come to any result, not loads and loads of clean cut chances. I think given the circumstances, the performance overall in that sense was excellent.”

In stoppage time, Robin Lod would receive a yellow card for a push in the back. At the final whistle, Austin FC would take all three points, earn their second road win of 2024, and break a five-game winless streak. For Minnesota United FC, they would earn their second home loss and extend their losing streak to three games.

“First learn stand, then learn fly”

Despite losing the past three matches, Ramsay remained positive: “You strip away all the disappointment of the situation that we find ourselves in at the moment. That [2nd half] is a performance that will stand us in good stead as the season goes on. And this fortunately is one of those leagues that afford to have these spells that we’re in at the moment, where there’s there’s an awful lot that’s going against you, and that’s showing in results. But fortunately tonight, it didn’t show in performance and attitude and application and togetherness and a sense of group and team that we’ve got here. And I think as the season goes on, and as we get into the latter stages, that is the most important thing. So as disappointing as tonight is for a load of reasons there’s far more positive than negative to take.”

Minnesota United forward Sang Bin Jeong (11) reacts to a missed shot at the Minnesota United FC vs Austin FC MLS match on Saturday, June 22, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Both Trapp and Ramsay emphasized the importance of the fans at Allianz Field. Wil Trapp said, “For us, the level of belief, the way the fans supported us from the 26th minute on, that’s going to bode well for us in the future. Yes, we lose this game; yes, that’s frustrating; yes, we would’ve loved to win. Three games in a row losing is not something we want to be about, but the underlying trends of a group that stays together and grinds through that, creates chances. Those are always positive things. While we don’t feel great about it, there are things looking to the future that will be beneficial for us.”

Ramsay did not just credit the coaches and substitutions with a better second half: “It wasn’t just solely due to the changes in players. Attitudes and the way they attack the game in the second half and the way the fans really supported the team, the way that they drove the team through really difficult circumstances. They’re the most important ingredients in a situation like that.”

Next Chapter Reboot?

The Loons are in the middle of a week off before another three matches in roughly a week (9 days). MNUFC play in Portland on Saturday, June 29. They come home to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday, July 3. They fly back to the west coast to take on the LA Galaxy on Sunday, July 7.

What will it take for the 2024 edition of Minnesota United to reverse their fortunes, to tell a new story? The 1984 movie The Karate Kid established Johnny Lawrence as the bad guy. In 2018, the television series Cobra Kai told a updated story from Johnny’s perspective, redeeming the character. Will the Loons find redemption? Come with Northland Soccer Journal and find out. It shouldn’t take 34 years.