The Loons met Club León for the second time as Minnesota United FC played host to Los Panzas Verdes on Saturday night. A crowd of 18,505 braved dire (and ultimately incorrect) weather forecasts to witness the first ever soccer match at Target Field.
United came out strong with J.C. Banks particularly looking dangerous after two half-chances in the first ten minutes. On one good opportunity, Christian Ramirez and Daniel Mendes connected via a Ramirez backheel. Mendes drove into the box and collided with a León defender, but the official was unmoved.
Though the Loons had the bulk of the possession, León looked dangerous on the break. In the 25th minute, a looping cross came in from the right wing and German Cano headed the ball in to put León up 1-0.
Miguel Ibarra’s night began inauspiciously as he struggled to get into the match. But he grew into the game, switching between the left and right wings and eventually putting in a few dangerous crosses.
Club León made wholesale changes to their side at the half, swapping out the entire line-up. If they had any worries that they might struggle for cohesion, they put those fears to rest. In the 51st minute, the León left winger put in a dangerous whipped cross that Brent Kallman attempted to block, but put into the back of his own net.
Loons fans got their first chance to look at trialist Jobi McAnuff, when the former Reading FC captain came on to play on the right wing in the 58th minute.
United came back into the match in the 62nd minute when Christian Ramirez shot from the corner of the 18 yard box and snuck the ball in the near post past William Yarbrough.
In the 69th minute, an effective midfield press from the Loons turned over the ball and J.C. Banks was set loose on a break. He calmly looped the ball past Yarbrough, evening up the match at 2-2 and capping off a strong night.
León returned their lead when Juan Cuevas scored off a free kick from 25 yards out. León had made a 3-2 counter and Kevin Venegas came running in and committed a foul to stop the attack. Cuevas did well to put the ball around the wall, but Sammy Ndjock will be disappointed he didn’t do more to save it.
Sammy Ndjock made a smart save in the 81st minute but as a result he was caught in no-man’s land, 10 yards from his goal. The ball fell to a León player, but Venegas was on the line to clear the shot.
Christian Ramirez had a chance to even up the game when Lance Laing sent in a cross in the 82nd minute. Ramirez found himself open at the back post, but headed the ball wide.
In the 84th minute, León went 4-2 up after a Sammy Ndjock save went to the top of the box where Juan Cuevas ran in and headed in the ball.
That score would hold up until the final whistle. After drawing 1-1 in last year’s friendly, the Liga MX side came out winners on their second effort.
After the match head coach Carl Craig was pleased with his squad overall. “Against a club as powerful as Leon we did pretty well. We made errors which were silly. Good teams will punish errors. At a higher level we’ve gotta cut that out,” he said. Asked if he took any lessons from the match that could be applied to future growth toward MLS, Craig said, “We showed in the second half that we can play. Maybe we need to believe a little more when we walk on the field. We’re a decent side. Yes we need to build.”
Craig spoke about J.C. Banks, who had a particularly good night, saying “I had this discussion with him at the end of last season. At the end of last season he got into some wonderful positions. Manny [Lagos] and I talked and we said we think we’ve got a number ten here. This was his best game he’s played for us. He’s still got work to do. He still causes me palpitations when he needs to defend. But I think he is a good player.”
It was a pleasant reunion for Miguel Ibarra and his former teammates. Kevin Venegas, who marked Miguel most of the first half, noted that he never matched up against Miguel in training. “I never really trained against [Miguel], so I was really looking forward to him running against me but he didn’t.”
Miguel, for his part, said he got chills when he heard the cheers go up from the home crowd for him. And asked to size up his old squad, he said, “The team is really strong. I was just proud to be back and proud to see Minnesotans supporting soccer. They have great players. You can tell they’re hungry.”