We were nearly very good in a lot of occasions.
– Adrian Heath
Soccer is a game of trying to mitigate the circumstances. In any given match there are no guarantees of wins or losses. Each match is filled with moments where a centimeter this way or that would have sent the game down a different trajectory. The coach can only send out the best XI that he or she thinks exists, each player carrying with them a variety of knocks and injuries, and a coach rarely has the full complement of their roster to choose from.
For Minnesota, once again it was without its leading goalscorer Christian Ramirez nor its midfield metronome Sam Cronin. In addition, left back Marc Burch was still out with a groin injury he had suffered earlier in the season. So head coach Heath was forced to put out a lineup that has at times struggled to defend and create opportunities on goal. Against a team like Philadelphia Union, itself also on the outside looking in on the playoffs, the lineup the gaffer picked had a shot.
In goal was the ever stable Bobby Shuttleworth. In front of him was the makeshift pairing of Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman, whom had been uneven in the couple of games together since Boxall had joined the Loons during the summer transfer window. Without a left back Heath could trust, Francisco Calvo has been playing there, proving his versatility for Minnesota. Fan favorite Jérôme Thiesson was back on his favored right side.
The midfield featured Collen Warner and Ibson in the middle of the field. Warner had lost his starting spot in the midfield to Cronin after the first few record-setting games. Warner’s play would be critical for Minnesota to compete for the midfield.
Without Ramirez up top, transfer window signings Ethan Finlay and Sam Nicholson were set up out wide. Abu Danladi took Ramirez’s spot and Kevin Molino was in the attacking midfielder/second forward role.
In Philadelphia’s starting XI were a couple of familiar names. Defender Oguchi Onyewu had been a regular for the USMNT until injuries derailed his career. Midfielder Fafà Picault had played against Minnesota in the NASL with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers before being sold to FC St. Pauli in the 2. Bundesliga in Germany. This is his first season back in the US.
Philadelphia started the game with a clear plan to contain Minnesota near its own goal, and it was successful. Without Minnesota having more than a few moments on the other side of the halfway line, Philadelphia was able to go ahead in the fifth minute on a great cross from Picault to a wide open Sapong. Picault managed to get by Nicholson before sending the ball across goal to Sapong, who had somehow shed his mark.
Fafa curves it all the way across the box to an open CJ who has no problem finishing it off for his 13th of the year https://t.co/ldCKHutBSY
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) September 10, 2017
Nicholson was the spark plug that brought Minnesota back into the game. The crowd rose to their feet after his sharply struck shot in the 18th minute was pushed just wide of the net by the Union’s Andre Blake.
I thought we grew into the game [after the first 25 minutes]. We started to get some proper possession. We started to be a threat going forward.
– Adrian Heath
Minutes later, Philadelphia would have its last good chance on goal until added time in the second half. Chris Pontius gathered a loose ball in the box and shot just wide. Sapong was there for the tap in, but just couldn’t get a foot on the ball.
Philadelphia dominated the midfield for most of the first half, having free reign to move and pass the ball through the center of Minnesota’s formation.
In the 40th minute, Finlay scored off a rebound after Calvo had carved up the defense of Philadelphia with a deft spin move. His initial shot was blocked by Blake, but Finlay was there to pick it off the Union defender trying to clear the ball and put it into the back of the net.
Come for @calvo05oficial
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) September 10, 2017
Minnesota came out of the half with all cylinders firing. Finlay moved into the middle of the field and pushed Molino out wide. That subtle change quickly sparked Minnesota’s offense. Nicholson ripped a shot that went just wide of goal and Minnesota earned three corners in the early moments of the second half.
After that initial fury, the game settled down into a predictable pattern. Minnesota played long balls, looking to unlock Philadelphia and find the winning goal. Philadelphia responded with deliberate play, happy to see minutes come off the clock as they searched for a point away from home.
Minnesota thought it had a chance to go ahead in the 68th minute. On initial inspection, the center ref called a hand ball on Onyewu in the box, resulting in his his second yellow card. On video review, it was determined that he had been pushed which caused the hand ball. Thus a foul was called on Minnesota and instead of a penalty kick, Philadelphia had a free kick.
After that, Philadelphia was happy to allow the game to devolve into a choppy game broken up by fouls and calls for fouls, keeping Minnesota unable to create momentum and find the winning goal.
In added time, it would be the Union with the first great chance. Roland Alberg beat Calvo around the edge and Shuttleworth had to make a great point-blank save to prevent giving up the late winner.
Minnesota thought it had the winning goal a minute later, but Danladi could not keep onside and his goal was called back. The game ended a minute later with the two sides deadlocked at one.
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) September 10, 2017
Minnesota United FC 1, Philadelphia Union 1
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. (CDT)
Weather: 71°, Sunny
Giliano Wijnaldum (38′, Unsporting Behavior)
Oguchi Onyewu (55′, Unsporting Behavior)
Ilsinho (60′, Unsporting Behavior)
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