SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota United FC counter-attacked its way to a lopsided 4-1 victory over a familiar U.S Open Cup opponent, snapping more than a couple of ignominious droughts in the process.
Wednesday marked the fourth time in six years that the Loons met Sporting Kansas City in the tournament, and cathartically for the hosts, it was their first win following a trio of consecutive cup defeats to SKC. The win also advanced MNUFC to the Round of 16 in the USOC for the second time in as many years.
“I always take a lot of sanctification if I can get a result against Peter Vermes’ team,” said MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath. “I have enormous respect for him and that club. I think they’re probably one of the best role models for most clubs in the league. They get incredible value into their players, and I’ve no doubt that come the end of the season, they’re going to be in and around the playoffs again.”
Minnesota’s victory came on the heels of another three-game losing streak, with MNUFC having dropped its last three league games in order to Atlanta United, the Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids. It also brought relief to Minnesota’s two highest-paid attackers.
When Darwin Quintero set up fellow Colombian Ángelo Rodríguez in the second minute, it was Rodriguez’s first goal in 544 minutes. For Quintero, it was the danger-man’s first assist in 978 minutes. After tallying 15 dimes in 27 games last season, Quintero now has four in 16 competitive matches in 2019.
The tally was also MNUFC’s fastest goal of the season, besting Osvaldo Alonso’s 13th minute strike to open scoring against New York City FC in Allianz Field’s debut on April 13. That it came from the collective effort of the two Designated Players was another boon to the Loons.
During Saturday’s loss at Colorado, Rodriguez and Quintero exchanged words about the placement of a free kick taken by the later as frustrations boiled over. In the locker room following tonight’s game, both players took the goal as evidence of progress.
Jun 12, 2019; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United goalie Vito Mannone (1) makes a save in the first half against Sporting KC at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
“Both of us try to continue to work harder on understanding each other better — especially on the field,” Rodriguez said via a translator. “Sometimes that goes our way and sometimes it doesn’t. Today, fortunately, it went that way for us.
“What’s most important is our league play, and hopefully this cant translate into that.”
Quintero offered his thoughts as well.
“We always talk about whoever is in the best position is the one that’s going to go for it,” Quintero said, also through a translator. “I assisted him, he did the same for me, so we both just try to continue to work towards doing our best for the team.”
On Rodriguez’ two assists behind Quintero’s brace, the two goals comprise two-thirds of the attacking midfielder’s total from open play in 2019. Having scored four times from the penalty spot this season, Quntero’s only other goal prior to tonight came in the 17th minute of a 4-3 loss at Toronto FC on April 20.
“Everybody, probably in the league, has seen what Darwin’s been capable of,” said Heath. “He’d be the first to say that he’s not at the level that you expect for him. As I said last week to the press, being a forward, sometimes you have barren spells. The important thing is to keep getting in there, keep being confident in your ability. Them two goals — believe me — will do his confidence a world of good.”
Where Quintero and Rodriguez found a return to form, rookie Hassani Dotson continued to elevate his. Having impressed while deputized as a fullback in recent weeks, the Open Cup provided the second-round SuperDraft pick with the opportunity to start at his natural position in the center of midfield. In response, Dotson contributed one assist that counted and a second that was taken off the box score by a close offside call.
“We always thought, ultimately, that’s where his best position’s going to be,” said Heath. “We have to decide when do we need him in there. When do we play two [center midfielders], when do we play three in there? Probably guaranteed if we play three he’s going to be one of ’em, you know, because he’s got a bit of everything. Really has.”
During pregame introductions, the call and answer between public address announcer and crowd with the former growling “Hassani” and the latter shouting “Dotson” was one of the loudest offered for any Loon in the starting XI. And where Dotson’s confidence on the field seems to grow with each passing game, he remains deferential and a bit reserved in interviews.
Dotson, on if his performance tonight was his way of sending a message to his head coach to play him in the midfield: “No, not at all. I mean, I’m just here to work as hard as I can and help the team win in any way possible.”
On his warm reception from the announced crowd of 7,211 at Allianz Field: “Everyone here — fans, staff — everyone’s been so supportive that I feel like everyone’s behind me. And yeah, it helps.”
On an evening that lifted the individual and collective spirits of MNUFC’s players, there was still a focus on the broader goal of winning a U.S. Open Cup.
Asked if he believed his team could lift the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup itself, Heath was confident that his charges could beat anyone when playing at home, and with a bit of help from the draw, winning MNUFC’s first piece of silverware since joining MLS was a possibility. One player who feels the same is Quintero.
Per winger Ethan Finlay, Quintero was the first player to raise his hand during Tuesday’s training session and ask to be included in tonight’s first XI. This on the heels of playing 90 minutes against Colorado on Saturday.
“It’s a tournament. If we would have lost this game, there would not have been another one,” Quintero said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us, as a team, to go out and provide all of our effort because we know there’s no other chance left.”