An expansion year is always filled with challenges, but after a solid showing against the Colorado Rapids last week, Minnesota certainly had hoped this week would be easier. Instead, suspensions, injuries, and the international break left the Loons without a number of players and put them behind the proverbial eight ball again.
Francisco Calvo and Johan Venegas joined the Costa Rican national team, and Kevin Molino was away with the Trinadad and Tobago squad for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Rasmus Schüller was called up by Finland for their World Cup qualifier and friendly, while Justin Davis picked up a contraversial straight red card last week against Colorado, and was suspended.
With injuries to Joe Greenspan, Bernardo Anòr, John Alvbåge, and Patrick McLain, Minnesota could dress only 17 players.
Missing five starters from last week, it was a new look starting XI for the Loons. The back line was manned by Brent Kallman and Vadim Demidov in the middle center, with Jerome Thiessen on the left and NASL-era Loon Kevin Venegas starting at right back in his first MLS appearance.
Against the Revs’ midfield diamond, Minnesota started with three midfielders: Ibson, Mohammed Saeid, and Collen Warner. Ibson had provided the spark that brought Minnesota back against Colorado, but there was no true attacking midfielder in that trio.
Miguel Ibarra and Bashkim Kadrii got starts on wings, while Christian Ramirez was the solitary striker up top. Bobby Shuttleworth started in goal for the second-straight week, with Alvbåge’s leg still on the mend.
The match started at a frantic pace, as New England looked to capitalize on the early defensive miscues that have cost Minnesota in recent games. The Loons looked aware of their defensive issues and all 10 field players defended from within 30 yards of the end line, including Ramirez.
It didn’t help.
A cross found Agudelo in a pocket of space in front of goal. Warner was the only Loon near the forward, but was on the wrong side of the forward to intervene. Agudelo buried his header in the back of the goal to give New England an early fourth-minute goal.
Minnesota looked lost for most of the first half, with miscommunication and a lack of shape the rule rather than the exception, defensively.
Still, with all its struggles, Minnesota managed to pull level through a smart bit of play and a lucky bounce.
It started with Kallman stopping Kamara on a Revs’ attack. On the ensuing counter, Warner was dispossessed, but the ball bounced off a Revolution player and right to Ramirez. The forward smartly laid the ball off to Warner, who’s shot beat Cody Cropper to the right post, producing a 1-1 scoreline in the 15th minute against the run of play.
If Minnesota had been able to settle in and organized itself at the back, the Loons might have had a chance. Instead, its defense left large gaps that New England was more than happy to exploit.
In the 21st minute, Nguyen dissected the Loons’ back line with a ball into the 18-yard box, finding Kamara a step ahead of Thiessen, with the forward scoring the Revolution’s second goal.
New England smelled blood.
In the 32nd minute, the Revs seized on an opportunity to attack three-on-two. Agudelo held the ball up for a moment in the box, and drew a penalty after Demidov used his body to stop Agudelo’s run. Shuttleworth was able to guess the direction of Nguyen’s subsequent penalty, but couldn’t keep the ball out of the back of the net.
Things got worse for Minnesota in the 41st minute, as the Revs went up 4-1 on Agadelo’s second goal of the afternoon. Halftime couldn’t come soon enough for the visiting side.
The second 45 minutes proved to be much better for Minnesota, but the first-half deficit was too much for the Loons to overcome. Jermaine Taylor and Abu Danladi entered the game for wingers Ibarra and Kadrii, and Minnesota shifted into a 3-5-2 formation with Thiessen and K. Venegas playing higher up the field.
The shift paid early returns, as Minnesota controlled the game to start the half, earning a dangerous free kick in the 49th minute. Ramirez’ run to the back post off Saeid’s in-swinger forced a poor clearance by New England, and Kallman was able to poke the loose ball past Cropper for Minnesota’s second goal.
If the Loons could have held New England, the narrative heading into Minnesota’s second home game next weekend would have been one of continuous (albeit gradual) improvement and learning from mistakes.
Instead, Diego Fagúndez was fouled just outside the penalty area, but the attacker’s momentum carried him into the box where he fell to ground, prompting a penalty call from referee Ricardo Salazar. Chris Tierney converted from the spot, and the Revs led 5-1 in the 53rd minute. For the remaining 25 minutes, New England rarely emerged from its half, happy to defend deep and wait for the game’s end.
While Minnesota had a few late chances, it couldn’t find a third goal and the game ended 5-2 in favor of New England.
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) March 25, 2017
New England Revolution 5, Minnesota United FC 2
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. (CST)
Weather: 40°, Cloudy
Juan Agudelo (4′, 41′)
Collen Warner (15′)
Kei Kamara (21′)
Lee Nguyen (32′, PEN)
Brent Kallman (49′)
Chris Tierney (53′, PEN)