Mar 10, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finlay (13) celebrates with defender Francisco Calvo (5) and teammates as he scores a goal against the Orlando City during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
A brace from Ethan Finlay and a goal-line clearance from Ibson lifted Minnesota United FC over host Orlando City. The win was the second for Loons Head Coach Adrian Heath over his former team, and the first in Orlando City Stadium, which Heath helped design. For Minnesota United, it was a much-need road victory, as the team did not mange three points on the road until late August in its inaugural MLS campaign a year ago.
Aside from those three points, the game was a noted improvement for Minnesota from its season-opening loss a week ago. Three things that stood out follow.
Depth provides winning goal
The Loons drew first blood, with Finlay opening the scoring in the 12th minute. Over the game’s first twentysome minutes, Minnesota held the run of play as it threatened on the counter against a Lions team defending from a narrow shape.
Then, knocks began to slow the Loons’ attack. Kevin Molino aggravated his left knee, and Sam Nicholson tweaked his hamstring. Both received attention from MNUFC’s training staff in the first half, and both were forced from the game in the second.
After VAR led to the awarding of a game-tying penalty, Minnesota’s breakthrough goal would be set up by a pair of second-half substitutes.
First-round SuperDraft pick Mason Toye, making his MLS debut, flicked the ball into the path of a streaking Miguel Ibarra. The left winger then put a driven, low cross on the foot of Finlay, and the latter redirected the ball into the back of the net having beaten his mark to the back post.
Fox Sports North sideline reporter Jamie Watson stated that preliminary tests on Molino’s knee were inconclusive, and that an MRI would be needed once the Loons return to Minneapolis. Nicholson’s status is to be determined as well.
Nicholson looked dangerous running at defenders with the ball, and made an impact off the ball while constantly harrying opposing players. Molino, who set up Finlay’s first score, has two goals and an assist to his name on the young season. Both started the Loons first two games.
Miguel Ibarra looks the leading candidate to step in on the wing should he be needed to start next weekend’s home opener against the Chicago Fire. Molino’s potential absence poses a trickier question for Minnesota as the team is without an obvious replacement for their current No. 10.
Minnesota forwards scoreless but still contributing
Last week, Christian Ramirez showed impressive strength and control to lay off an assist for Molino while tangled up with an opposing center back. Against Orlando, another strong bit of play created a goal. Ramirez shielded a throw in before flicking the ball over his head, initiating a three-touch sequence that linked Nicholson, Molino and Finaly on the Loons’ first goal.
Following a like-for-like substitution in the 72nd minute, Toye came on to queue up the game-winner.
Ramirez — a central midfielder in his youth — has shown growth in his ability to hold up play and bring his teammates into the game. On a night when the likes of Molino, Nicholson and Finlay came flying out of the gates, Ramirez’s strength on the ball was significant in helping Minnesota seize momentum early.
Abu Danladi, who started Minnesota’s season opener, was absent from the 18-man roster and is presently nursing a hamstring injury. The 22 year-old is Ramirez’s main competition for minutes for as long as Heath sticks with some variant of his preferred 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation, and offers pace the former NASL Golden Boot winner does not. But Ramirez’s ability to remain productive when not finding the back of the net may help keep him in the starting XI until he can find his scoring boots.
Lampson turns in impressive but incomplete game
Goalkeeper Matthew Lampson beat out Bobby Shuttleworth for Minnesota’s starting job this preseason, and has looked solid through two games. Against Orlando, Lampson made a pair of fine saves and dealt with a number of loose balls in his own penalty area. On the whole, Lampson had a fine night.
However, Lampson’s distribution was a point of concern. Outside of a long throw that caught the Lions defense sleeping and put Nicholson in on Orlando’s goal, Lampson’s passing left something to be desired.
The keeper’s goal kicks were often short and sent directly to Orlando players, putting Minnesota under additional pressure. And even passes Lampson completed created unnecessary risk.
One such example was a 56th-minute pass from Lampson, out of his own 18 yard-box, straight ahead to Collen Warner. The midfielder, receiving the ball under pressure deep in his own end, and with his back to midfield, had no safe passing options and was unable to turn upfield. Quickly disposed by Orlando, the Loons were lucky the Lions fouled Warner in the process thus and avoided facing a counter without the benefit of numbers behind the ball.
Minnesota hired experienced goalkeeper coach John Pascarella in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see what influence the former Kansas City coach has on Lampson and the rest of the Loons’ netminders this year.