On a chilly mid-May evening, Minnesota United welcomed Columbus Crew SC to Allianz Field. The visitors came in having lost six of their last seven games, while the home side carried an unbeaten home streak. Despite lacking defender Ike Opara and experimenting with Miguel Ibarra at left back, the Loons posted another clean sheet at home and kept their streak alive after Ethan Finlay scored the game-winner against his former team in the 70th minute.
“I’ll settle for it if it’s three points every week,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath when asked about the low-scoring affair. “I think there’s only six teams that have scored more goals than us in the league. That might have changed today. You know, it’s been the last three, four weeks, we haven’t taken the chances we’ve had. Before today, I can think of the last three or four games where we’ve had three or four clear cut opportunities. And tonight, we’ve created two or three good chances as well. So, you know, we’ve got to start taking a bit more of the percentage of them, and if we do, we’re going to be okay.”
From the whistle, both teams looked like they were up for it, trading possession and working the ball around confidently in turn. Minnesota once again found themselves testing the opposition’s defense on the right side of the park and stringing together passes and eventually earning an early corner kick in the game’s seventh minute. Following midfielder Jan Gregus’ inswinger, the ball was cleared but sent back in again directly to midfielder Darwin Quintero. He drilled the ball into the back of the net but it was called back for offside.
Through the first 30 minutes of the half, the Loons gradually asserted themselves and built up attacking momentum. In the 20th minute, Quintero again had an opportunity from the top of the box, firing in a low curling shot that forced a save from Columbus goalkeeper Jon Kempin. The Crew gained a bit of traction in the half’s final 10 minutes, with midfielder Federico Higuain unleashing a long shot from outside the box that keranged off the left post but stayed in bounds. Defender Romain Metanire — who welcomed his second child just yesterday — held off the attack from the left side of the box until midfielder Osvaldo Alonso arrived to shovel the ball out of harm’s way.
As the minutes ticked down to halftime, it looked once again like Quintero would give the Loons the first lead of the game off a corner kick. Yet again, the ball was sent back into Quintero who tapped the ball in on the far post but was once again called offside. Both teams would have to settle for a goalless draw heading into the locker rooms.
Crew SC opened the half in much the same fashion as they treated the first: doing their best to find space in behind Miguel Ibarra, who got his first chance at playing left back. The converted midfielder did well on the offensive end to provide more attacking down the left side of the pitch and stood himself in good stead defensively as well. In the 54th minute, forward David Accam made a savvy run in behind on the left side and Higuain threaded a pass through the defense. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone was there to turn him away though.
“If you look at the game last week, people aren’t silly, they’ll keep watching the game and Romain [Metanire] is a problem for teams,” said Heath. “And I just felt that we needed the same thing on the left, but more of a threat down the left so they couldn’t keep funneling it down that side and basically think that they’re going to sort it out and just put people on Romain. Now, with Miggy [Ibarra] out there, we have another threat as well. You worry about defensively but I thought he was terrific. Really good, smart spots, maybe go to feet, didn’t get done in behind.”
On the whole Columbus seemed to turn up the intensity a notch through the start of the first half as they worked to find a breakthrough goal. They moved their press a bit higher up the field, doing more tussling for the ball near the halfway line and doing well to win the ball and cut down on some turnovers that dogged them in the first half.
The momentum shifted 20 minutes into the half, though, as Minnesota started to build up chances from a variety of angles, eventually earning a run of corner kicks. In the 70th minute, a short corner led to Metanire firing the ball toward the far post and a diving Brent Kallman. The defender headed the ball deftly back across goal and found a waiting Ethan Finlay, who volleyed the ball confidently into the back of the net for his first goal of the season, his first goal since returning from an ACL tear last year and his first goal against his former team.
“I’m a huge believer in you get out of football and life in general what you put in,” said Heath. “And there’s nobody putting more in than him in the last year. It’s a long road. You’ve got an ACL and, in the beginning, everything is fresh and new, but trust me, you’ve been through it when you get to month six and seven and eight, it’s not nice. He’s worked so hard. He’s worked tirelessly to be in the shape he’s in at the minute. He got the goal.”
From there, Heath executed a number of switches to hold onto the lead, bringing on defender Eric Miller to hold the line down the left side and Rasmus Schuller to provide extra rigidity through the middle of the park. Although the Loons threatened a number of times in the game’s closing minutes — including some good work by sub Abu Danladi to get out on the end of clearances and push the ball into Columbus’ territory — they more importantly held serve in their own half and sealed a 1-0 victory, preserving the Loons’ unbeaten record at home.
“I thought there were some outstanding performances,” said Heath. “Romain [Metanire], considering he was in the hospital with his wife all day yesterday – she had the baby – you know, he didn’t train. I thought he was incredible. The two center backs were outstanding. I thought Miggy [Ibarra] did well. A new role for him, against [David] Accam, who is a live-wire. There were a lot of good, pleasing performances.”