SAINT PAUL, Minn. (Nov. 22, 2020) — For the second year in a row, Minnesota United found themselves with the fourth seed in the playoffs, this time facing a surging Colorado Rapids team that won on Decision Day to vault into fifth. With Colorado winning their last three and Minnesota unbeaten in eight, something had to give and the Loons made sure it was the Rapids. While the visitors began brightly, the home side seized momentum in the 22nd minute on a strike by midfielder Kevin Molino. The Rapids regrouped in the second half but found themselves undone by goals in the 54th and 79th minute, with Molino completing his brace on the second of those two. Dayne St. Clair and the defense stood tall through some rugged challenges to keep the clean sheet and send the Loons to a conference semifinal meeting with their old friends, Sporting Kansas City.
Much to Head Coach Adrian Heath’s chagrin, the game began with Colorado seizing the moment and pushing the Loons deep into their own half for the first 15 minutes. Lacking both right back Romain Metanire — who couldn’t get back from the international break in time — and a fully healthy Osvaldo Alonso, MNUFC began with midfielder Hassani Dotson at fullback and Marlon Hairston alongside Jan Gregus in the double pivot. Initially, this led to a little looseness in defense and some opportunities for the Rapids.
In the fifth minute, goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair — starting his first MLS playoff game — was forced into a tough spot by a ball over the top that caught the Loons’ defense flatfooted. Picking the ball up on the left side, midfielder Jonathan Lewis blasted a shot directly at an onrushing St. Clair but the Canadian keeper was up to the task, turning the shot away with an outstretched foot.
With St. Clair standing tall at the back, the home side eventually began to get in some stabbing forays into Colorado’s half. Balls forward began finding the attacking four who proved so deadly against FC Dallas in the final game of the regular season. In the 22nd minute, their hard work paid off. Hassani Dotson threw the ball in on the right side to a waiting Kevin Molino, who tapped it through a defender’s legs to a cutting Emanuel Reynoso. Reynoso paused and sliced back towards the box but lost the ball. Molino, however, had followed up his earlier pass and slotted the ball confidently with his left foot onto the far post and past goalkeeper William Yarbrough to make it 1-0.
Getting the first goal imbued the Loons with confidence and they proceeded to push their possession advantage up over the back half of the opening stanza, eventually getting it up to 56.2% by the whistle. Minnesota came perilously close to doubling their lead minutes later as midfielder Younes Namli turned the ball over to a pestering Molino. The Trinbagonian got it to Robin Lod — playing the false 9 as he did against Dallas — and the Fin got it to Reynoso with a wide open net in front of him. Somehow, though, his shot struck the right post and rolled harmlessly away, leaving the Loons cursing their luck.
Colorado, though, were not about to lie down on the pitch without a fight. In the 43rd minute, St. Clair was once again called upon to Lewis as the midfielder found himself isolated on the right side of the pitch. St. Clair came rushing out to the edge of the box and slid in to get the ball off the midfielder. With just a minute of stoppage time to play, the Rapids could not pull level and Minnesota headed into the locker room with a goal in hand.
The Rapids came out of the break much as they began the game: aggressive, disruptive, full of energy. Minnesota needed some strong last ditch defending in the second half’s opening minutes, including a desperate dive by defender Bakaye Dibassy to redirect a shot from Cole Bassett into the sheltering arms of St. Clair in the 48th minute. Moments later, it was Jan Gregus spearing a shot over the crossbar in the 52nd minute after St. Clair had come out wide to challenge the Colorado attack.
But then in the 54th minute, the home side caught the visitors pushed too far forward. Mirroring the opportunity from the first half, Lod received the ball on the run on the right side and got the ball to his favored left foot before launching a shot that curve in on the far post and doubled the lead for Minnesota to 2-0.
In the 67th minute, Molino missed an opportunity to push it to 3-0 after he skied a shot over the crossbar but 12 minutes later he made up for it. Humming like a well-oiled machine, the Minnesota attack threaded the ball smoothly through Colorado’s half before it found Jan Gregus at the edge of the box and straight out from goal. Gregus picked out Molino on the right side and the midfielder danced the ball in over Yarbrough to make it three for the home side in the 79th minute.
Down the stretch, there was work to be done for the Loons to preserve the clean sheet and make the victory authoritative. St. Clair made another quality save in the 87th minute and then forward Diego Rubio missed a good look over the crossbar at the death as the Loons put their first playoff win in MLS to bed with Sporting Kansas City on the horizon.
BELL BANK MAN OF THE MATCH: MidfielderKevin Molino GOAL BREAKDOWN
- 22’ | Hassani Dotson throws it in to Kevin Molino, who gets it back to Emanuel Reynoso. Reynoso takes it into the middle and the ball gets away from him but Molino is first to it and slots the ball with a left-footed shot on the left post confidently. Yarbrough had no shot at it. 1-0
- 54’ | Robin Lod gets another opportunity from the right side with the left foot and this time he doesn’t miss, sending it curling onto the far post. 2-0
- 79’ | Once again on the break, lovely interplay ends with the ball on Molino’s feet on the right side after Jan Gregus sends the ball across the top of the box. 3-0