May 5, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Miguel Ibarra (10) celebrates his goal with midfielder Edwuin Gomez (32) in the second half against Vancouver Whitecaps at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — Reduced to 10 men in the 50th minute, Minnesota United kept pushing and caught Vancouver on the counter 10 minutes later for a game-winner at TCF Bank Stadium.
A little over a month prior, it was a shorthanded Atlanta United side that sat deep in defense of a one-goal lead and frustrated the Loons at home. Saturday afternoon, it was Minnesota’s turn to grind out a professional victory over the Whitecaps (4-5-1, 13 points). By holding the visitors off for the final half hour, the Loons (4-5-0, 12 points) won their second-straight home game and now sit in fifth place in the Western Conference.
“The team that we played, they’re the biggest team, probably, in the league. And I thought the players, that every single one of them put themselves on the line so many times with the crosses that were coming in the box,” Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said. “[Boxall] and Wyatt [Omsberg] came on, and Carter [Manely] — it was all hands to the pump.
“We went through it ourselves against Atlanta, here. And it’s difficult when everyone packs it in.”
Opposing head coach Carl Robinson was left frustrated by the result.
“I’m super disappointed, because I don’t think we got what we deserve,” Robinson said. “I thought we kept them up bay for 90 minutes really, and limited them to a number of shots. We missed a number of chances.
“Sometimes in football, that happens. When you give a team something to hold on to, it gets difficult. We kept knocking on the door, unfortunately we missed a couple of chances. We have to take the defeat on the chin.”
The Whitecaps outshot the Loons 8-2 in the first half, putting five of their efforts on target. In what would prove a theme on the afternoon, Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth kept his side in the contest.
The netminder’s 38th-minute fingertip save of an Anthony Blondell effort taken from inside the penalty area was perhaps the highlight of the opening half.
Five minutes after the restart, the shape of the game changed.
Rookie forward Mason Toye responded to being tangled up in front of goal with the Whitecaps’ Kendall Watson by throwing an elbow into the center back’s midsection. Toye was shown a straight red card in response.
“I was getting held and grabbed a little bit, but that’s just a part of the game,” said Toye. “I made a bad decision. I threw an elbow, and I got a red card for it. It’s just a learning experience for me.
“I just have to say a big thank you to the whole team. I put them in a really though spot and they were able to pull a win out.”
With both Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi absent from Minnesota’s 18-man roster, Heath elected not to make any immediate substitutions, and pushed attacking midfielder Darwin Qunitero forward.
Vancouver sought to take advantage and assert itself, but it was Minnesota that opened the scoring instead.
Catching the Whitecaps on the break, left winger Alexi Gomez found Miguel Ibarra at the back post. A nice reaction save from Stefan Marinovic denied Ibarra’s initial shot, but the right winger followed his own effort and poked home the rebound to give the hosts the lead.
“If you switch off on the back post, you get caught sometimes,” noted Robinson. “It was a lack of concentration, but there wont be any shouting or ranting. The boy [Brett Levis] had a very good game.”
Not known for having his sides play an overly-defensive brand of soccer, Heath let circumstance dictate his tactics once he had a lead to protect.
“Because of their sheer size, we changed the shape,” said Heath. “We went to a 5-3-1, if you like, and said, ‘Okay, you can get it wide but we’ll try and defend the box.’ We did that terrifically.”
Playing up a man for the final 40 minutes, Vancouver managed just two shots on target.
The first of that pair was an 83rd-minute, Brek Shea shot taken from outside the 18-yard box that looked destined for the far upper corner. But it prompted a highlight-reel save from Shuttleworth to preserve two points for his side.
“He’s done that the last couple weeks when we’ve needed him,” said Heath.
“That’s why he’s there,” Loons captain Francisco Calvo said. “Bobby’s had two huge games, and today, he was, for me, the best player on the field. He shows up every time we need him.”
The result left a sour taste in the mouths of many in the visiting locker room.
“We had many chances to finish. It was just the last touch or bad luck,” offered Whitecaps midfielder Aly Ghazal. “We’re going to get this one back next week.”
As Vancouver turns its attention to Friday’s game against Houston, Minnesota finds itself in a potentially tricky spot ahead of its midweek game at Los Angeles FC.
Neither Ramirez nor Danladi dressed against the Whitecaps, as both are nursing injuries. With Toye more than likely to be suspended against LAFC, Minnesota may be forced to make due on the road without a true forward in its lineup.
“With Danladi’s situation and Christian’s situation, it’s not ideal,” Heath said. “We’ll be in tomorrow. We’ll assess from there and decided what we want to do.”