MINNEAPOLIS — A sensational hat trick from Darwin Quintero, augmented by a 13th-minute goal from Miguel Ibarra, gave Minnesota United (6-10-1) a large enough cushion to weather a late rally by Toronto FC (4-10-3) and hold on to a 4-3 home win.
The victory was much-needed by Minnesota coming on the back of a five-loss June, including the Loons’ round-of-16 defeat on penalties to FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup. Meanwhile. Toronto’s winless streak was extended to seven games, as the Reds conceded four goals for the second time in four fixtures.
Seventy-percent humidity set the stage for a hot evening and the crowd at kickoff appeared as a glittering mass from the pressbox as thousands fanned themselves with glossy lineup cards that caught the late-afternoon sun.
On the field, the Loons covered the contest in gilt early.
Quintero opened scoring in the eighth minute as the Loons pounced on midfield turnover by the Reds. Driving at Toronto’s back line, Minnesota’s dangerman made use of an overlapping run by Chirstian Ramirez, finding space between Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta to curl a ball inside the far post with the outside of his right foot.
Ibarra would double the lead five minutes later. Playing in his first game after returning from the World Cup, Loons captain Francisco Calvo bisected Toronto’s defense with a pass from midfield and put Ibarra in on goal. Ibarra slotted the ball under Toronto keeper Clint Irwin for his fourth goal of the season.
“I thought for 25, 30 minutes, we were outstanding. Some of our play tonight was as good as you’ll see in MLS. It really was that good,” said Adrian Heath. “When to play simple. When to play in behind. When to play feet, combination play. And, you know, culminating as good a hat trick as I’ve ever witnessed. And I’ve been doing this a long time. Three incredible goals.”
Heath’s counterpart, Greg Vanney, acknowledged his team were slow to take the game to Minnesota.
“We were too stretched out. The field [at TCF Bank Stadium] is long and narrow and we talked about it before the game that we need to stay together as a group. We ended up getting caught trying to chase things in the opposition’s end of the field. We got pulled apart.”
The Loons kept the run of play and looked as impressive as they have all season for most of the first half, but a moment of calamitous defending opened the door and let Toronto back in the game.
Running onto a loose ball in his own penalty area, Ibson elected to take a touch in an effort to secure possession. That touch was too firm, carrying the ball away from the midfielder and into the reach of a sliding Justin Morrow, who poked the ball between Bobby Shuttleworth and the near post to put the Reds on the scoreboard.
Morrow’s effort was only the second shot from inside its own penalty area that Minnesota had allowed from open play while deployed in the 3-5-2 formation Adrian Heath has used to begin the Loons’ last two contests.
“We’re giving up less on the outsides — fewer deep crosses in those dangerous situations” said centerback Brian Kallman. “When you play that formation, the guys that are in front — the center midfielders — have to cover a lot of ground, and our guys are doing that right now.”
With his team carrying a one-goal lead into the second half, Darwin Qunitero made the evening his own.
Receiving a simple ball from Ibarra, Qunitero dashed towards goal while keeping his mark on his hip. Reaching the 18-yard box, the Colombian curled a well-weighted shot over Irwin and inside the far post to restore Minnestoa’s lead to two.
Five minutes later, Qunintero completed his hat trick — the first in the MLS era for Minnesota United. While on the counter, Quintero spotted Irwin a couple steps off his line, and chipped the keeper on the run, finding the far top corner.
Quintero was yellow carded for the ensuing celebration, wearing one of the hats thrown onto the turf by fans at TCF Bank Stadium. After the game, Ramirez said he tried to claim responsibility for the caution.
“I told the ref to give it to me,” said Ramirez. “I put the hat on his head. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. Didn’t know it was deserving of a yellow. I’m just glad it wasn’t a second yellow.”
In the 70th minute, Sebastian Giovinco took it upon himself to try and spark a Reds comeback. Finding space 30 yards out, the Italian created a moment of space with a clever behind-the-back dribble, then curled a shot inside Shuttleworth’s left post as the keeper stood frozen — either by the effort or the low sun shining in his direction.
The Reds threw players forward in search of the two goals needed to earn a point.
A brilliant reaction save from Shuttleworth denied Jordan Hamilton from point-blank rage and the forward placed Gregory van der Wiel’s cross on goal.
Four minutes into added time, van der Wiel again picked out Hamilton — this time from a corner — and the forwarded headed the ball home to draw Toronto within one.
Fortunately for the Loons, the Reds rally was too little, too late, and the final whistle brought with it an important three points.
When asked if Toronto could still make the playoffs in the wake of the evening’s defeat, midfielder Michael Bradley replied with an “absolutely”.
“The reality is that we have played 17 games, and we have 15 points. We have another 17 games and in these next 17 games, we’re going to need 30 to 35 points. You can’t take 35 points in one game. Your only chance you have is to find a way to regroup after each and every game, focus on what’s coming next, and see if we can find a way to put a run of games together where we pick up some points and gather some momentum.”
The U.S. international continued, “There’s no possible way to sugarcoat anything so far in the league. It’s just been bad. Plain and simple. This is also a league where that every year there’s a team or two that starts poorly, finds a way to regroup, and then turns the table a little bit. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
In the home locker room, Quintero revealed his man-of-the-match performance was the fulfillment of a promise.
“I dedicated it to my wife, it’s her birthday today. I told her I was going to score a hat trick and that I was going to get her the ball. Thanks to God, I did it. But, the most important thing is that the team got the three points.
“This is the fourth [hat trick] I’ve scored, but I can say with certainty that it is the best one I’ve scored. I hope there are a lot more goals to come.”
Vanney addressed Quintero’s performance from Toronto’s perspective.
“He can create a lot of issues if he gets on the run with ball, because he has a lot of speed and a good vision for the game. He’s clever with his finishing and passing. There was far too much space for a player of his quality to have and run around and manipulate the game.”
Heath, having already singled out Quintero for high praise, was also pleased by the victory.
“I’m pleased that they got the reward that they did tonight, because I don’t think anybody in here can say that we didn’t deserve something from the previous three games. And sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. I’m aware of that. But tonight, we did.”
Meanwhile, Vanney was in want of a more combative performance from his charges.
“We committed three fouls in the entire game of 90 minutes. Some of that is just not being close enough, some of it is that we have to harder to play against. Three fouls in a game for me, is not defensive presence. Sebastian and a couple of our guys got fouled three times on their own, and we don’t even foul their entire team three times. It just comes down to some of that.
“We adjust to go forward, but again we have to be out there competing as a group. We have to be in a position to help each other, but from the start we weren’t. We started to be in better spots for each other as the game progressed, but conceding goals like that early on has been a big problem for us this year.”