With the rainbow flags waving, the chorus of “Wonderwall” reverberating around the stadium, it might have been easy to see this as preordained with the home side beating an early season favorite in the East.
Minnesota United FC, already incredibly thin on the bench, were without two of their regular starters and playing one of the best teams in the Eastern conference.
I had expected to be able to be just a fan, my first row seat behind the goal the place for me to cheer and heckle as the game progressed. Walking back down 4th street with a sea of happy people, I was reminded of why I go to watch such a simple game.
Soccer has the power to unite people of all walks of life in the joy of victory and the beauty of the game. On Saturday, that was on full display in Minneapolis.
Before the day of the game, the story lines were Adrian Heath and Kevin Molino facing their old team and the Brazilian Kaká playing in Minnesota. By kickoff, most of those had been scrapped. Kevin Molino was ill and didn’t even make it to the bench, while Kaká stayed back in Orlando to prevent any aggravation of his injuries on the TCF Bank turf.
Ismaila Jome got his first MLS start out on the left wing and Miguel Ibarra moved to the right side to fill in for Molino. Johan Venegas was back in the starting lineup with rookie Abu Danladi recovering from a groin injury.
Otherwise, the formation was much the same as in previous weeks. Sam Cronin and Ibson in the middle of the field with Christian Ramirez up top. The steady back line was still Marc Burch, Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo, and Jerome Thiesson. And Bobby Shuttleworth, mask and all, stood between the posts in goal.
For Orlando, even without their superstar Kaká, the team was sure to get lots of opportunities on goal with a number of quality attacking players including Canadian wunderkind Cyle Larin and human mosquito Victor Giro, better known as PC.
Orlando looked to start the game off strong, and nearly put in a goal in the early going in the seventh minute. Some quick passing broke Scott Sutter open on goal. His shot just went wide by the narrowest of margins, but the message was sent, Orlando expected to get the three points.
Two minutes later, a long ball into the box fell to Cyle Larin, who couldn’t get it past Shuttleworth.
Gradually though, the visiting Lions let Minnesota back into the game with lazy and errant passing. While still outplayed, the stadium began to believe that Minnesota had a chance in this game.
Minnesota’s game plan was to harry the Orlando players at every opportunity, and the referee was having none of it. Orlando tried to exploit the quick whistle by flopping all over the field, but their advantage in fouls never really seemed to give them an advantage in the game. Instead, it enraged the fans with the locals sure their side was innocent of any and all calls by the ref.
Jome would be the one to give Minnesota its first real chance on a lovely header to an onside Ramirez. Minnesota’s leading goalscorer’s shot leaves something to be desired, and Orlando’s Joe Bendik saves it with ease.
Even though Ramirez couldn’t break the deadlock, his shot was a suggestion of a path forward for Minnesota. If they could just create an opportunity on the counter, all of Orlando’s possession and shots would be for naught.
After the break, the two teams were stuck at zero; neither team really willing to devote the resources necessary to break down their opponent’s defenses. A shot by Cyle Larin is saved by Bobby Shuttleworth, while a volley by Ramirez can’t find the target.
The stalemate continues until a beautiful flick in the 61’ would find Ramirez onside for his eighth goal of the season. It felt too good to be true. Neither team had dominated the game since the first 10 minutes. One second Minnesota was simply trying to work the ball up through the middle of the field, the next second Ramirez was racing in on goal.
Once the Colombian-American striker had gotten both Bendik and the Orlando defender to commit, he calmly passed the ball into the goal. It was not until the ball was nestled safely in the netting that he turned around, a huge grin on his face, as he ran to celebrate with his teammates.
When the celebration ended, the real work began. Could the team who had visibly tired in each of their previous two games and with a very thin bench defend this lead? With some adept subbing, coach Heath and the ragtag Minnesota XI was able to dig deep and keep the clean sheet.
First, Heath brought on Collen Warner for Cronin, who had heroically taken a shot to the top of his head trying to prevent a chance on goal. Next, the Brooklyn Center native Jome came off, and Collin Martin got his first chance since the New England game on the right side. Finally, with four minutes remaining, Jermaine Taylor came in for Venegas, giving Minnesota five in the back to help defend as Orlando sent every player forward looking for the equalizer.
On the field, the players played on another level. Kallman was there every time a ball was lofted into the box while Burch and Thiesson kept winning the ball on the wings. Calvo showed off some surprising dribbling skills for a defender, only to be outdone by Ibson, whose breakdancing-esque 720° on the ground to win the ball brought most of the stadium to their feet.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 28, 2017
When the ref blew his whistle for full time, Minnesota had their second marquee victory of their inaugural season, coach Heath had his revenge against the team that had sacked him the previous summer, and the team had stopped their two-game skid.
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) May 28, 2017
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) May 28, 2017
Minnesota United FC 1 – Orlando City 0
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. (CDT)
Weather: 70°, Sunny
Christian Ramirez (56′)
Assisted By: Johan Venegas, Ibson
38′ Johan Venegas (Unsporting Behavior)
66′ Sam Cronin (Unsporting Behavior)
76′ Ismaila Jome (Unsporting Behavior)
81′ Marc Burch (Time wasting)
90’+1′ Miguel Ibarra (Not Retreating)
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