ST. PAUL, Minn. — The clock struck midnight and New Mexico United FC’s chariot ride of a U.S. Open Cup run was smashed like a pumpkin as host Minnesota United FC scored six unanswered goals in a 6-1 rout that sent the Loons to the semifinals of the tournament.
Four wins in the 2019 tournament — including victories over the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas — brought New Mexico to a quarterfinal that took the first-year club over a thousand miles north. Things started brilliantly when the visitors grabbed the first lead of the game when Christopher Wehan set up Santi Moar for a strike in the seventh minute, but after that it was all Loons.
Fourteen minutes was all it took for MNUFC to put the game out of reach as Ángelo Rodríguez, Darwin Quintero, Rodríguez (again) and Ján Greguš scored in quick succession. Rodríguez would finish his hat trick in the 45th minute sending the Loons into the locker room with a commanding 5-1 lead at halftime.
“Obviously, as a forward the objective is to score goals and then even more so a hat trick,” Rodríguez said through a translator. “But what’s most exciting for me is to know that our team has gone on through to the next round, and we’re one step closer to our objective of winning the cup.”
Rodriguez’s hat trick was Minnesota’s first in over a year, with the previous scored by Quintero against Toronto FC at TCF Bank Stadium on July 4, 2018. And it was part of a determined response from the hosts.
“It happened right away. It woke us up,” said MNUFC’s Miguel Ibarra of Moar’s opening goal. “It made us say, ‘There’s no way we can lose this game.’ And we got [the equalizer] right away, which helped us a lot.”
Where it was a trio of Ibarra’s teammates getting on the score sheet in the first half, the indefatigable winger would grab the final goal of the evening in the 62nd minute. That left-footed shot marked an important personal milestone for Ibarra. Dating his tenure with the club back to 2012 when MNUFC played in the North American Soccer League, and now in his seventh season with the Loons, Ibarra had yet to score at home this season. Tonight, he tallied his first goal at Allianz Field.
Public address announcer Tony DeLorenzo initiated a call-and-answer with the crowd when three prompts of “Miguel” were met with progressively louder mass choruses of “Ibarra!” from the announced crowd of 12,401 fans.
Jul 10, 2019; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United defender Angelo Rodriguez (9) dribbles the ball against New Mexico United in the first half at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
“Just getting the goal was amazing for me,” Ibarra said. “It’d been a couple of games that I hadn’t scored, so coming back [home] and getting on the score sheet is big for me.”
Sporting bleach-blond locks as of recent, Ibarra confirmed that his new hairdo was an effort to shake things up, and noted that it had come along with a run of form that has seen Minnesota win six-straight in all competitions. But the USOC, where three of those victories occurred, is more likely the source of the Loons’ mid-season surge.
The cup is a competition MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath has taken seriously, and a string of victories has his team playing with confidence.
“Some of my greatest memories in football have been winning cup competitions” said Heath, who won an FA Cup (1984) and an UEFA Cup (1985) during his playing days at Everton FC in England’s first division. “Now you’re a couple of games away. And trust me, when you get to 50-odd years of age, you look back and you’ll remember them games. Might be a semifinal or something, so who knows? You know, there’s been a lot of great players who’ve never won anything, and all of a sudden you’re a couple games from winning something. We didn’t take the game lightly. That’s why we put the team out that we did and now we advance.”
Asked if he’d prefer to face the Portand Timbers or LAFC in the semifinals, Heath was both diplomatic and candid.
“As long as we’re at home, I’ll be fine,” said Heath.
Heath noted his side, which had just played the third of five games coming in a 19-day span, had emerged from the game in full health. And Rodríguez, following a Man-of-the-Match performance, noted he was completely fine being subbed off in the 63rd minute ahead of Western Conference rival FC Dallas coming to town on Saturday.
Where Minnesota is now looking ahead to league play and a semifinal, a lopsided scoreline shouldn’t stop New Mexico from looking back fondly on it’s cup run. New Mexico’s performance in the 2019 USOC is even more impressive noting that 12 months ago the club hadn’t even signed its first player. Fast forward to the present, and head coach Troy Lesesne has already played David to a pair of first-division Goliaths in the cup and has his team in contention for a USL Championship crown.
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 11, 2019
Those accomplishments did not escape Heath’s notice.
“I want to congratulate New Mexico. I think they’ve done really well,” Heath offered. “Really well-coached, and I think Troy’s got a really big future. And again, I thought that their support was fantastic. They’ll be really disappointed with the scoreline, but they can be proud of what they’re doing in this competition considering it’s a first-year club. Troy and his staff can take a great deal of credit for that, and I think it’s only onward and upward for them as a club.
“The team that they put together and the football that they play — it’s an absolute credit not only to the USL but to Troy and New Mexico.”