Associate Editor; Official MNUFC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

April 24, 2021: MN United FC 1 – 2 Real Salt Lake

MN United FC: Dayne St Clair; Chase Gasper, Juuka Raitala, Michael Boxall, Romain Metanire; Jan Gregus (Hassani Dotson 65′), Wil Trapp; Ethan Finlay (Justin McMaster 65′), Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod; Juan Agudelo (Ozzie Alonso 75′)

Real Salt Lake: David Ochoa; Danny Toia, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera; Everton Luiz (Nick Besler 70′), Pablo Ruiz (Justin Portillo 90+5′); Anderson Julio (Justin Meram 70′), Damir Kreilach, Albert Rusnak (Maikel Chang 90+5′; Rubio Rubin (Douglas Martinez 78′)

As someone said in last week’s eight word reaction thread, “The more things change, the more they stay [the same].” Minnesota United FC returned to Allianz Field on Saturday night and were greeted by about 4,100 fans for the first time in 552 days. While those supporters had the fortune of seeing Emanuel Reynoso play in person for the first time, ultimately they had a front row seat to a very 2018/19 flavor of Minnesota misery.

MNUFC’s home opener was also Real Salt Lake’s season opener. Head coach Freddy Juarez (who made 89 appearances over four seasons for the Minnesota Thunder) fielded a young squad anchored by some mainstays who have also been trouble for Minnesota. While Adrian Heath added only two changes to his starting XI, his tweaks to the 4-2-3-1 formation may have been the home side’s downfall.

After conceding four goals to Seattle, a defensive shakeup was clearly needed. Centerback Brent Kallman was replaced by newcomer Jukka Raitala, (the second in line behind an injured Bakaye Dibassy) who seemed to mesh well with partner Michael Boxall. And since scoring goals is recommended as a supplement to not conceding them, the front four were also tweaked. Robin Lod and Ethan Finlay swapped wings and new forward Juan Agudelo debuted up top. While Lod has proven his effectiveness on the right, (despite Heath’s preference to play him on the left) Finlay seemed lost on the left. Nearly all of Minnesota’s offensive firepower came from the right, with fullback Romain Metanire making overlapping runs with Lod and taking up space to allow the attackers to into the box.

Unfortunately, the Loons were all shots and no bite. Outshooting RSL 23 to 11, Minnesota had only two on target. Salt Lake made them pay for this uninspired effort, notching 2 goals — out of 4 on target — from counterattacking plays. RSL’s own right winger, Anderson Julio, exploited key mistakes by Minnesota’s backfield (namely Chase Gasper) to score a brace in his MLS debut. Veteran midfielders like Albert Rusnák played a massive role in disrupting Minnesota’s central third, paving the way for forward Rubio Rubín to create chances for Julio.

Lod would eventually score one, but its beauty was undermined by the many squandered opportunities before and after. Had the goal mouth been just two feet wider and taller, the Loons would have had at least ten goals. But alas, they lost, 2-1.

Considering the upgrades to this squad, it is baffling that a club that started 2020 with 8 goals for and 2 against across two matches would concede 6 and score only 1 in the same time frame — especially considering that this latest performance occurred at home in front of their fans. This fact made the loss a little more painful for captain Michael Boxall.

 “I mean, you kind of look at our performances the last two games and you kind of walk away from them thinking you played well, you’ve got enough to get something out of one, maybe not both of them, but I think we are playing okay. But there’s just moments where mistakes were made, mental errors that lead directly to goals. So that’s just something that we need to fix, like last week. Frustrating that it happened again in front of our own fans after so long. I mean we’re two games in, there’s a long season to go. We know we’re better than our results show, but we need to start proving that.”

The Loons’ next chance will again be in front of friendly fans. Austin FC will make its Allianz Field debut on Saturday, May 1. The visitors put on an efficient performance against Colorado Rapids this weekend so Minnesota will need to step it up and make every shot count. If they show even half the passion next weekend that they showed after the whistle, when RSL goalkeeper David Ochoa punted the ball into the Wonderwall, that will be progress.

A brief footnote

Following some time-wasting theatrics which had already drawn some high tempers from the home side, RSL’s David Ochoa let off some 3 point steam at the whistle, punting the ball into the stands behind his goal. This action sparked a melee on the sideline where Ochoa’s U23 teammate, Loons midfielder, Hassani Dotson confronted him. While Ochoa was escorted off the pitch, confrontations continued, with both benches and their coaching staffs either pointing fingers or separating players. Fortunately, it didn’t last long, but the episode sparks an important conversation.

Throwing or kicking any object into the stands is against the MLS Players Code of Conduct, regardless of intent (RBNY’s Kaku didn’t mean to hurt anyone when he shanked one into the stands in 2019, but his unwitting victim still feels its impact). However, there is also a Code of Conduct for fans in the stadium. At least once in the first half, Ochoa was the target of a homophobic slur (you know the one) which, while faint, was pretty clear on the broadcast. Allegedly, he was subject to other verbal shots in the second half that went beyond the line of heckling a visiting goalkeeper.

Prior to this incident, I had plans for a story regarding fan and player accountability. Ochoa’s punt, what may have led up to it in stadium, and what followed on social media, only serve to highlight the need for that conversation. More to come.

Story updated to include footnote 4/25/21, 10PM CST

Correction: Dotson is Ochoa’s U23 teammate, not U20 as written when this story was published. The editor regrets the error.

Featured image: Daniel Mick

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