ST. PAUL, Minn. — A first-half penalty kick from Darwin Quintero and a 64th-minute strike on the counter from Mason Toye were enough to carry Minnesota United FC past the Portland Timbers and into its first-ever appearance in the final of the U.S. Open Cup.
Four minutes into an announced five minutes of added time, whistles cascaded down from the stands. A Vito Mannone goal kick was the last event to precede the final whistle, blown by referee Ismail Elfath. That exorcised the ghosts of 2005, when the then Minnesota Thunder lost a USOC semifinal 5-2 to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“Players have worked so hard, recently,” MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath said. “If you look at the games we’ve had in probably the last month… that weighs on you mentally as well as physically. So to come through like we’ve done, again, is a testament to all the players.”
Slated to travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia for the Aug. 27 final, Heath was asked if he was tired of comparisons between MNUFC and fellow 2017 expansion side Atlanta United FC.
“Well, I am because it’s nice when you spend $70 million or whatever-it-is on your team and you don’t have to build a stadium,” Heath replied.
“I don’t know what MLS-dot-com are going to say. My God, flags will be at half-mast at that building… Minnesota in the final,” Heath wryly added.
The Loons first big moment of the night came when Claude Dielna was called for a handball after coming into contact with a Ján Greguš free kick inside the Timbers’ penalty area. Before Quintero took the ensuing penalty, Loons captain Osvaldo Alonso made a sprint from midfield to whisper in Quintero’s ear.
Alonso said he saw Cristhian Paredes telling Steve Clark to go to his left, because Paredes previously played with Quintero at Club América and was familiar with his penalty kick tendencies. He relayed that information to Quintero.
“I’m telling Darwin, ‘Paredes said to the goalie you’re going to shoot it that way.’ So I tell him to change it and I think he listened to me,” Alonso said.
Indeed. Quintero, firing the ball to Clark’s right, opened scoring in the 22nd minute.
Portland leveled the game just before the half, when Jeremy Ebobisse played Brian Fernández in on goal from close range. The quick pass from Ebobisse caught Minnesota’s back line as it was stepping forward, with centerback Michael Boxall moving in the opposite direction of Fernández just before the forward received the ball.
An angry chorus erupted from the Wonderwall at Allianz Field, but with no video review in the U.S. Open Cup, the initial decision on the field was final.
A source told Pro Soccer USA that Heath intercepted the officiating crew in the tunnel and positioned himself between the officials and their locker room. Heath shouted, “Are we watching the same game!? Do your [expletive] job!” in reference to the lack of an offside call on Fernández’s goal. Heath was separated from the interaction by a member of his staff.
Pro Soccer USA learned of the incident after postgame interviews concluded and was unable to ask Heath directly about the situation. A spokesman for the club declined to comment.
Regarding matters on the field, Heath said Minnesota was at its worst on the evening during the final 15 minutes of the first half and first 10 minutes of the second.
To his team during halftime, Heath said: “We’ve got to get back to what we are. We’ve got to get back to what’s got us results lately. It’s been discipline and the team coming first, not individuals running all over the place doing what they think is right at that particular time. That’s not right. We stick to the plan. Keep disciplined, keep organized, everybody does what everybody wants we’re going to be fine.”
For Toye, that meant following a very specific plan of his own. Toye said after the match that he’d watch Kevin Molino, and when his teammate had “space and time” Toye was going “to run and try to get myself in a good spot.”
Pinning a beautifully-weighted pass over and behind the Timbers’ back line, Molino put Toye in on goal in the 65th minute.
“He found me,” Toye said of the ball Molino played. “I just stayed composed and finished it.”
Route-one ⚽️ works | #SCTop10
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) August 8, 2019
Toye’s understated recounting of events belied the importance of the goal. On a personal level, it was the first professional goal Toye had scored with his father watching from the stands. Having lost cup finals in both high school and college, the goal also gave Toye a shot at redemption.
“Our performance was unbelievable,” Alonso said. “We give everything we have because it’s our chance to get to the final. We fight for each other and play for each other to get the result.”
On having to beat the same team twice in four days, Alonso admitted it was a bit weird but he was happy to have beaten Portland on the way to the USOC final.
For Minnesota United as an organization, Toye’s goal and subsequent victory are being held up as evidence of the strides the club has made in the final year of its oft-referenced three-year plan.
“I actually think we’ve made unbelievable progress. We keep adding. It’s a great day for the club,” Heath said. “We’re going to the first final. We’ve added a young [designated player], paid a lot of money for a kid [Thomás Chacón] we think is going to be outstanding for the future.”