“Disappointing,” said Minnesota Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I don’t think we ever really got going this evening. Showed a little bit more endeavor, a little bit more fight, a little bit more enthusiasm in the second half. In the first half, we were on the back foot, we were second-best in nearly every aspect of the game. We showed a little bit more [energy] in the second half.”
Chicago came at the Loons right after the opening whistle, led by forward Aleksandar Katai. The Serbia international had three chances inside the opening 10 minutes, including hitting the post in the third minute after a quick attack down the left. He, along with fellow attackers Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Nikolic, pulled the Loons’ defense apart with dangerous runs and incisive passes down the wings.
On the other end, Minnesota failed to make a connection in the Chicago penalty area. Defenders swarmed around Loon forward Angelo Rodriguez to prevent him from turning to shoot on goal. The Colombian forward decided to act as the distributor for his teammates, but the final ball still eluded MNUFC as it managed just two shots in the opening half.
The Fire nearly found the opening goal just 17 minutes into the game, when Nikolic blocked a pass from Ike Opara, who was the last defender back for MNUFC. Nikolic sprinted toward the MNUFC goal, but Opara and Brent Kallman recovered quickly to prevent an easy breakaway. Romain Metanire covered a lot of ground to contain Nikolic near the end line, sliding to block a cross to the waiting Fire players on the far side.
The breakthrough came just as the Loons were beginning to apply pressure to the Fire. A Jan Gregus corner kick was headed out of the Fire’s penalty area toward Osvaldo Alonso. As the Loons’ captain stepped up to control the ball, Chicago’s Dax McCarty knocked the ball past the MNUFC midfielder to set up a sweeping counterattack. Przemyslaw Frankowski carried the ball into the Loons’ penalty area and slotted a pass to Nicolas Gaitan for an easy finish into a gaping net.
The Loons tried to answer back with some quick attacks, but Calvo’s familiarity with his former team’s playstyle allowed him to anticipate and intercept chances down his side of the field. Metanire was able to get the best of him a few times, but the rest of the Chicago defenders were able to stand up to the roving Loon rightback with last-minute interceptions.
Just as it looked like Minnesota was going to get some momentum, a long pass from McCarty in the midfield found its way to Katai with yards of space on the left flank. Despite a swift recovery by the Loons, the Fire forward curled a shot from a tight angle past goalkeeper Vito Mannone to double the lead.
The deficit forced Minnesota Head Coach Adrian Heath to make changes during the break, bringing in Darwin Quintero and Abu Danladi for Rasmus Schuller and Ethan Finlay to give the Loons more attacking options in the second half. It took five minutes for Danladi to make an impact, pouncing on a loose ball just in front of the Chicago goal and getting a shot off in a dangerous area, but wide of the mark.
Heath doubled down on an offensive push to get back in the game, bringing in Romario Ibarra for Eric Miller in the 64th minute. The many MNUFC attackers began to pull apart the Fire defense with Danladi curling in a dangerous ball deep into the box, forcing Chicago goalkeeper David Ousted to come off his line to make a catch before Rodriguez could finish off the move.
Quintero was also involved in the attack early into his appearance, dribbling through the middle of the Chicago half and opening space for with wingers. However, he was unable to create a connection with Rodriguez to set up the usual give-and-go plays that had been so successful for Minnesota early in the season.
“We have created opportunities this season,” Heath stated after the game. “Tonight, we haven’t. Even the last couple of games at home we’ve created a number of opportunities. I think we only had five shots on goal this evening. I don’t think we had enough energy in the first half. Our energy levels were poor, we didn’t get enough men forward, we didn’t get forward with any conviction.”
The frustration began to boil over for the Loons as Rodriguez and Fire defender Bastian Schweinsteiger traded hard tackles and late fouls. After a few physical battles early on, Schweinsteiger was booked for hauling Rodriguez to ground while fighting for the ball in midfield. Rodriguez was given a yellow card of his own just minutes later, while trying to win the ball off the Germany international near the corner flag.
The tension subsided for a while, but the momentum swung back towards the home side in the final 30 minutes of the game. Mannone was called on multiple times in the closing minutes to give his team a chance to come back, making a crucial diving save on a wide-open shot from Frankowski in the 87th minute. Opara was also a major factor in keeping Chicago off the board, disrupting several threatening passes inside the 18-yard-box that would have put the home team up by three goals with no time left.
Chicago began to kill off the clock as the final whistle drew near, and tempers began to flare on both sides as the physicality and frustration returned to the game in stoppage time. It came to a head after a foul near midfield gave Minnesota a free kick, and both sides came together with pushing, shoving and a few choice words after the whistle. When the dust settled, Quintero and Danladi were cautioned for their involvement.
One final chance to get on the board was given to Minnesota on the ensuing free kick. Gregus curled his service to the far post for Romario, but the midfielder could not turn the ball towards goal. Chicago managed to clear the ball away as the final whistle blew, securing the 2-0 for Minnesota at SeatGeek Stadium.
Minnesota United’s next game is on Saturday, May 18 against Columbus Crew SC at Allianz Field. The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT