MINNEAPOLIS — A goal and an assist from Zlatan Ibrahimovic carried the Los Angeles Galaxy to an important 3-1 road victory that put the visitors in the driver’s seat in the race for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. For the hosts, it was a bittersweet home finale as a season-high crowd — 52,242 announced, both sold and distributed — filled TCF Bank Stadium. The sendoff was in part a celebration of things to come with Minnesota United set to move into its own stadium, Allianz Field, come 2019.
“It was a hard one because I think we played against a good team,” Ibrahimovic said. “Playing away, in front of 50,000 thousand. Like I said, they came for me, [for] us. They didn’t come for [MNUFC]. We made them enjoy, so I think they’re happy, just as us. I think it’s a nice memory, as I think it’s the last game at this stadium.”
“I came. I won. I went. That’s the memory they will get.”
Whether it was the chance to see the likes of Zlatan and company, or as a result of Minnesota’s 50K to Midway promotional campaign, United opened and filled much of the upper deck at TCF Bank. For most games, MNUFC staffs around 30 people at a handful of gates, but needed 80 this evening with all gates in use and the announced attendance setting a record for a Minnesota team playing in an outdoor soccer game.
With the two teams each having conceded 60-plus goals coming into the day, goals were expected, and in that respect the result did not disappoint.
A number of opponents visiting TCF Bank have elected to limit their best players’ exposure to the stadium’s turf. But with the Galaxy fighting for a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Ibrahimovic was in LA’s starting XI, as expected. And it was Ibrahimovic that would open scoring.
Drifting away from his marker, Michael Boxall, Ibrahimovic would get on the end of a Rolf Feltscher cross in the 30th minute. With an open look at the back post, a simple header down into the turf was enough to get the ball past Matt Lampson and give the Galaxy an early lead.
Los Angeles finished the first half with nearly 60-percent possession and looked in control of the contest. Shortly after the restart, a four-minute flurry would determine its outcome.
In the 50th minute, Ashley Cole set up Ola Kamara to double LA’s lead. Moments later, Ibrahimovic found Romain Alessandrini for the Galaxy’s third. A consolation goal, as Ángelo Rodríguez headed in Darwin Qunitero’s 14th assist in 26 games, capped off the action in the 54th minute, saving some face for the hosts.
“I think we have moments in games — we have lapses in games — that cost us dearly,” reflected Heath. “You know, we make a mistake for the second goal, then we go and make another one two seconds later. Now the game is over. Up until then, the game was very much alive for us.”
Heath’s counterpart, Dominic Kinnear, viewed the opening goal as the most important.
“Tough conditions, but scoring the first goal gave us a huge boost of confidence. Then those two in succession settled us down probably a little too much. We came here knowing we had to win regardless of what happened in Portland. It’s a great road win for us and gives us and gives us a chance next week to see if we can make it to the playoffs.”
The win ensured the Galaxy control their own postseason fate. Los Angeles is now one point back of sixth-place Real Salt Lake, but with an all-important game in hand.
Minnesota’s loss was another difficult defeat in a season that has featured many, and led to mixed feelings in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Where once club officials insisted its 2017 debut season in MLS was not a soft launch, MNUFC CEO Chris Wright met with media at halftime and asked for patience from fans as the team attempts to bolster its roster this offseason.
The Loons will have one final chance to better their 2017 point total (36) next weekend in Columbus, with the Crew looking to hold onto sixth place in the East. And after conceding three to the Galaxy, Minnesota’s goals allowed reached 68 ― just two shy of the 70 that set an MLS single-season record last year.
But with little evidence of progress on the field, the Loons were still able to fill a Division I football stadium while fielding a ninth-place team already eliminated from the postseason. And the club is rightly excited for its self-financed, state-of-the-art, soccer-specific stadium to open next season.
“The game is here to stay,” said Heath. “I spoke a few weeks ago and somebody said, do you think the game will survive? Them days have long gone. This league is getting bigger and stronger and better every year. And then, the fact that we’ve had 50,000 here…
“The support has been magnificent here. And, we have to build on that. We have to keep them engaged with our performances on the field. We have to keep them engaged by continually moving the club forward. It’s going to be a big year for us next year and I’m fully aware of that.”