From Vancouver with Love but MNUFC Aren’t Feeling It

Minnesota United midfielder Sang Bin Jeong (11) crosses the ball as Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Sebastian Berhalter (16) attempts to block it during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Wednesday, July 3, Minnesota United FC hosted Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Allianz Field. These two teams have been evenly matched over their MLS history. Entering the match, MNUFC held a slight edge 5-4-4 (W-L-D) over the VWFC.

Last week, Vancouver came from behind to beat St. Louis City, breaking their two-match losing streak. In addition, they had won three out of their last five. Minnesota by contrast was on a four-match losing streak.

This was MNUFC’s “Salute to Freedom” match. Even before joining MLS, Minnesota’s men’s pro soccer team usually played around the July 4. This year, there were fireworks that shot off during the U.S. national anthem. There was patriotic-colored “bomb-pop and prosecco” cocktail. The in-game honors featured fans that had served in the military.

For soccer honors, Minnesota’s Robin Lod and Vancouver’s Ryan Gauld were both recently named to the 2024 MLS All Star roster. Both players played well, but Gauld had three assists and vaulted the visitors from Vancouver to victory.

Alec Smir during the match between Minnesota United and Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

On Her Majesty’s  Starting XIs

Despite the tweeted MNUFC formation (4-4-2), Ramsay probably didn’t surprise many with playing Minnesota’s 5-4-1 which can shift to 3-4-3 when the fullbacks and wings move up a row. With Tani Oluwaseyi with Canada in the Copa América and Teemu Pukki still recovering from a knee injury, Robin Lod got the start at center forward.

Wil Trapp was out with a hamstring injury, and Alejandro Bran joined Hassani Dotson in the central midfield. Bran had played the previous evening for Costa Rica against Paraguay in Austin, but he only played 13 minutes. Ramsay commented on Bran: “I think he had some really good moments in the game, perhaps you’d say at points maybe looked a little bit laggy. But I think that’s that’s expected given the circumstances.”

Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Ryan Gauld (25) fouls Minnesota United midfielder Alejandro Bran (25) during the match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

At the back, Minnesota United is currently thin at goalkeeper: Dayne St. Clair is with Canada. Clint Irwin has an adductor injury. Fred Emmings has been out with a concussion for much of the season.

Alec Smir was recently transferred from MNUFC2 to the senior team for the remainder of 2024. Smir made his MLS debut and his first start for the senior team. After the game, Smir spoke about his first start and senior minutes: “It was a tough start, but I just enjoyed it. I just tried to have a good time, be present, and enjoy the moment: felt good to be out there.”

MNUFC also signed recent former Augsburg University goalkeeper Oscar Herrera to an MNUFC2 contract and used a short-term agreement to allow Herrera to be the backup keeper on Wednesday. In addition to his time at Augsburg, Herrera has also spent time with Forward Madison FC and Minneapolis City SC.

Vanni Sartini played Vancouver’s typical 3-4-3. On June 2, Sartini said that Tristan Blackmon was out at least the next two matches with a groin injury and that “[Damiri] Krellach will travel with the team” but probably not play. Alessandro Schöpf returns to right wing back after serving a red card suspension.

Prior to the match, Ryan Gauld led the team with 9 goals and 4 assists. Center forward Brian White was just behind him with 8 goals and 2 assists.

Alec Smir and Michael Boxall during the match between Minnesota United and Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The Backpass Is Not Enough

In the 4th minute, Minnesota had the ball close to their own net. Michael Boxall attempted to pass the ball back to Alec Smir. The ball lacked pace, and a pressing Ryan Gauld got to the ball first and passed over to Brian White. Brian White scored easily, and now has nine goals in 2024.

After the game, Boxall did what a captain should do and put the blame on his shoulders: “We start the game with me just gifting them a goal and that kind of sucks the energy out of the stadium, out of our team. And any momentum you’re trying to get going forward just kind of disappears. Everyone else is working hard creating chances, but tonight, that’s 100 percent on me. We’re at the point where we need to be fighting tooth and nail and scrapping every time we can to stay in games. We can’t be just be gifting and doing sh*tty plays like I did to start the game.”

Die Another  Way

In the 17th minute, Ryan Gauld would take a short corner to Sebastian Berhalter. Gauld ran behind Berhalter and then more centrally to received the ball back. The Vancouver captain than delivered an air mail package that found the head of leaping center back Mathias Laborda. In less than twenty minutes, MNUFC found themselves down 2-0 at home.

Coach Eric Ramsay commented on Vancouver’s second goal: “Obviously, we’ve given a lot of space in the box away as the ball is being sent backwards to be delivered. And that irrespective of the whole circumstances, that is certainly not good enough, and that will be one that the players will look back and be very self-critical.”


Caden Clark dribbled up the right side line, and around the 27th minute, he sent in a cross that appeared to hit the arm of center back Ranko Veselinović. Minnesota were granted a penalty, but Joseph Rosales shot the same direction as Yohei Takaoka dove. Kyndra de St. Aubin said it was not enough toward the corner.

Quantum of Solace

Roughly three minutes later, Rosales sent in a left-side corner kick, headed by Hassani Dotson. Dotson heads the ball toward the far post. Bongokuhle Hlongwane performed a circular hip motion to load a back kick. Hlongwane’s goal cut Vancouver’s lead in half, and his clever motion was completely more casually than Daniel Craig whipping a knife-wielder through hotel patio doors. The half would end 2-1 in favor of visitors but the home side leading 3-2 on yellow cards.

The Man with the Golden Gun

In the 60th minute, the Whitecaps turned over the ball deep in their attacking third. They proceeded to roll wave after wave of passes from right to left until Sebastian Berhalter pulled the trigger on shot that ricocheted off the left post and into the net. The Whitecaps extended their lead 3-1. Ryan Gauld earned his third assist of the night and his seventh of this season.

Smir and Sebastian Berhalter played on the pitch together for University of North Carolina. Smir remarked of Berhalter: “He scored a fantastic goal, so I was giving him a tough time for that.” Smir later added, “He apologized because he knew it was my debut and feels bad, but at the same time, happy for him. It was a great finish.”

The Living Daylights

The Loons had their chances. In the first half, off a great dribble by Hlongwane, Robin Lod had a shot blocked by Veselinović’. Hlongwane in both halves had shots that lacked pace or went high. Devin Padelford had a scorcher that didn’t miss by much. Sang Bin Jeong had opportunities, one that trickled just wide right of the net. Franco Fragapane subbed in to make his 100th MLS appearance, and he had looks at goal. MNUFC defenders Boxall and Miguel Tapias both had headers off set pieces that missed the net.

During the Minnesota United and Vancouver Whitecaps FC match at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
(Photo by Ben Van Wyk)

On the missed chances, Coach Eric Ramsay said, “We typically were a team definitely at home that created a load of chances. In the way in which we were creating chances tonight, we’re doing it in a very systematic way.” He later summarized two reasons for not finishing those chances: “Of course, we show a lack of composure, lack of cleanness in the box, lack of precision. But I think you can also put pretty cleanly on the table as well that we are missing our number nines [Pukki and Oluwaseyi] at the moment. And that is largely who you look to in those situations.”

The Loons had a slight possession edge at 55.5% to 44.5%, but they beat the living daylights out of xG: 3.8 – 1.4. At the end of the day, expected goals don’t win games, actual goals do. With three actual goals to one, the Whitecaps submerge the Loons on their home pond.

The Loons skyfall to eighth place in the Western Conference. However, only four points separate fifth place from tenth. After Sunday’s matches, the Western Conference look like this.

Tomorrow Never Dies

The MLS schedule does not die down. In a few tomorrows, Minnesota United travel to Carson, CA to play LA Galaxy on Sunday, July 7. This will complete the most congested part of the MLS season. MNUFC have had to play three matches in eight days, had a week to train, and then play three matches in nine days. At the end of Sunday, they will have played six matches in 23 days. While every other MLS team has had to go through a similar congested schedule with players gone on international duty and players injured, perhaps MNUFC has had to weather more absences than most teams.

“We really suffered over the course of the last five games or so, and in some senses through a really strange set of circumstances maybe that lots of MLS clubs aren’t living or haven’t lived to this extent. When you take into consideration the absences, the injuries, the suspensions, the transfers out ahead of the window opening, we — everyone at the club is on the same page — would like to do some business relatively quickly in order to give us that sense of reinforcements coming.” — Eric Ramsay

Will Khaled El-Ahmad use his GoldenEye to discover talent and bring them to Minnesota during the July transfer window? If so, how quickly will the current and new players bond? Will Manny Lagos be called to a give a rousing speech harking back to the days of Thunderball? The Loons have lost five straight, but this is No Time to Die.