MINNEAPOLIS — A week prior, following his team’s 3-2 win over Portland, Minnesota United FC Head Coach Adrian Heath stressed the importance he places on finishing out the 2018 season on a run of good form, whether or not the playoffs remain a realistic goal for the Loons.
“I want to make sure that this season doesn’t patter out,” said Heath. “We’re going to fight and try and get points for every single game we play.”
Tonight, the Loons recorded another victory. A first-half brace from Ángelo Rodríguez ultimately provided enough distance for Minnesota to hold off New York City FC in spite of the Pigeons controlling the balance of possession.
“I think you prepare for that: to work, to score goals, to play well so that the team wins,” Rodríguez said. “Fortunately, today that happened.
“That’s why I came [to Minnesota], to demonstrate what I’ve done throughout my career. So, this is just beginning. It’s just about working and having confidence.”
Rodríguez’s first goal of the game came in the 20th minute. The Loons saw their first four attempted crosses blocked by Blues defenders, but found joy on their fifth.
Getting around his marker down the right flank, Miguel Ibarra sent in a curling, driven ball, finding Rodríguez. The forward said he didn’t think he was going to reach Ibarra’s cross, but Rodríguez was rewarded for his back-post run with a point-blank header.
Sixteen minutes later, Rodríguez would double his team’s lead, capitalizing on an ill-advised backpass from NYCFC defender Ben Sweat.
Noticing that Sweat’s focus was only on his own keeper, Sean Johnson, Rodríguez anticipated and intercepted Sweat’s pass. After rounding Johnson outside the 18-yard box, Rodríguez calmly rolled the ball into an empty goal.
Come halftime, the Loons led 2-0 from the game’s only two shots on target, absorbing pressure and finding success on the counter.
“For me, I was as impressed with our first-half performance as I was with Portland,” Heath said.
Heath’s counterpart, Domènec Torrent, saw it as 45 minutes of good play undermined by a pair of errors.
“We had 70-percent percent of the ball,” noted Torrent. “In the first half we controlled all the time, but we made two
mistakes, which happens in soccer and we paid for out mistakes.”
Aiding the Loons was the absence of David Villa and Maximiliano Moralez. The duo have combined for 20 goals and 20 assists in league play this season. With both in their 30s, NYCFC opted to spare them a game on TCF Bank Stadium’s turf.
Asked if the conditions helped his team take control of the game early, Heath was dismissive.
“I don’t really care, to be honest,” said Heath. “It is what it is, and I don’t think they’re the team to talk about surface, or where we play. Maybe one or two could, but not them.”
The second half picked up where the first left off as the Loons weathered pressure from the Pigeons.
Things were made trickier for the hosts in the 76th minute when midfielder Collen Warner was shown his second yellow card of the evening for a tackle on Eloi Amagat. Of the challenge, Heath reflected that his midfielder should have stayed on his feet and didn’t need to dive in.
Introducing fullback Eric Miller for Rodríguez, Heath changed Minnesota’s shape to a 5-3-1 with an eye to closing out the win, but a strange NYCFC goal in added time made the game’s final moments interesting.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi found Valentín Castellanos inside the Loons’ penalty area. And though Bobby Shuttleworth saved Castellanos’ initial effort, the rebound fell to the Argentinian while he lay on the ground. Heading the ball forward with his belly on turf, it squirted through Shuttleworth’s grasp and was slotted home by Rodeny Wallace.
After a brief delay for video review, the goal was upheld.
“For some reason, the players are saying that the referee said something about ‘We have the wrong angles for VAR.’ So, we’ve either got VAR or we haven’t, so I don’t really know,” Heath said. “One of our TV guys thought he was offside. I’ll have to see it again.”
Another late concession aside, the five minutes of added time elapsed and Minnesota had earned its second-straight win.
“Tonight, sitting on the bench, I was a little bit more calm than I was last week,” reflected Heath. “And that’s another win for us. That’s 11 wins now. Equal to last year’s total, let’s see what it takes us. You know, I’m really pleased with the group at the moment.”
Across the hallway, Torrent preferred to focus on his team’s performance instead of the night’s outcome.
“I’m disappointed by the result, not by the game,” said Torrent. “Maybe this was the best game that New York City played away, maybe. My opinion today, is that New York City played really well here in Minnesota. Minnesota played aggressively with us. At the end, we lost the game. That’s not good for us.
“The performance for me was good. Better than Montreal where we drew the game, and tonight where we lost. It’s not easy to explain to people and our fans what happened. I prefer to always talk about what happened on the field, not the result. Because the result is easy. You win the game, it’s okay. You lose the game, everything is wrong.”