MN United earns opening day draw

CHESTER, Philadelphia (Feb. 26, 2022) — The inaugural game of Major League Soccer’s 27th season belonged to Minnesota United FC and the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park on a bright and blustery day in Chester, PA.

The Loons came into a difficult venue for visiting teams determined to take a positive result back to the Twin Cities ahead of next weekend’s home opener. While Minnesota’s reloaded attack had its share of chances to come away with all three points in the eventual 1-1 draw against a Union team with ambitions of being the class of the Eastern Conference, Adrian Heath’s club will take the always-challenging away point against a tough opponent and have plenty to feel good about as all eyes shift to next Saturday’s tilt with Nashville.

Due to injuries to Abu Danladi, Chase Gasper, Romain Metanire and Wil Trapp, Heath was forced to improvise and start a lineup that has not spent much time together this preseason. Luis Amarilla started at the top; Bakaye Dibassy and Oneil Fisher filled in at fullback for Metanire and Gasper, respectively; and Honduran international, Kervin Arriaga, whose paperwork was approved while the team’s plane was en route to Philadelphia, filled in for the injured Trapp. 

In total, Arriaga, Fisher and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who came on as a substitute in the 78th minute, all made their Minnesota United debuts today.

Despite the challenge of facing a formidable opponent on the road with an improvised lineup, the Loons did not appear content to play conservative and hope for a draw. Both teams pressed the issue from the opening whistle and gave the 17,487 in attendance several opportunities to get out of their seats.    

Amarilla nearly opened the scoring in the second minute of his first official match back in black and blue after a nice set up by Robin Lod, but was denied by Andre Blake. The two-time MLS goalkeeper of the year had a busy day in net for the Union, making five saves on 14 Minnesota United shots

MNUFC broke through in the 23rd minute and scored the first official goal of the 2022 MLS season. Franco Fragapane took a long ball from Bakaye Dibbasy in a dangerous position on the left flank. Fragapane shed Philly defender Olivier Mbaizo with a clever right-footed first touch and raced towards the end line. The Argentine sent a perfectly-weighted low cross through the middle of the 18-yard box, where Robin Lod was waiting to smash the ball into the back of the net with his left foot from a step in front of the penalty spot.

The goal marked the 20th time Lod has found the back of the net across all competitions in a Loons kit.

The hosts equaled the score a dozen minutes later. Fullback Kai Wagner took a recycled ball off a corner kick and found Jakob Glesnes deep on the right side. The Norwegian sent a beautiful right-footed cross past the outstretched arm of Tyler Miller and right onto the head of Cory Burke, who sent a smooth shot right to the back of the net to even the tally.

Arriaga came within inches of turning in a dream debut with his new club in the 42nd minute. The newcomer sent a screeching right-footed free kick from just outside of the 18-yard box, which beat Blake, but found the upper-left corner of the woodwork. The rebound eventually fell to the left foot of Lod, who sent an attempt just over the crossbar.

The second half proved to be just as wide open as the first with both sides trading several chances inside of the first 15 minutes. Amarilla found himself in space after a run to the top of the box in the 56th minute, but his shot went straight into the sure hands of Blake. Philadelphia’s Daniel Gazdag came close to putting the hosts in front moments later with a dangerous run up the left flank, but his hopeful left-footed pass across the goal mouth found nobody home. 

A second half filled with stoppages in the form of subs, several fouls on both sides, and lengthy conversations between players and referee Rubiel Vazquez turned into a whopping seven minutes of added time at the end of regulation. The theme of the game continued in added time, with both squads pressing for a winner.

The best chance in added time came in the 92nd minute and belonged to Adrien Hunou, who subbed on in the 84th minute for Amarilla. Hunou very nearly took all three points for MNUFC after one-timing a through ball from Lod from just outside the 18-yard box. Blake was off his line, but recovered to make a spectacular save with his left hand to keep the score at 1-1 and halve the points between the two sides.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Midfielder Robin Lod
LINEUPS:Minnesota United: GK Tyler Miller; D Bakaye Dibassy, Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall (c), Oniel Fisher; M Hassani Dotson, Kervin Arriaga, Franco Fragapane, Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod; F Luis Amarilla

Philadelphia Union: GK Andre Blake; D Jack Elliot, Jakob Glesnes, Olivier Mbazio, Kai Wagner; M Daniel Gazdag, Alejandro Bedoya (c), Leon Flach; F Julian Carranza, Cory Burke

UP NEXT:

MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. NASHVILLE SC
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
03.05.2022 | MLS Week No. 2 | MLS Game No. 2
5:00 p.m. CT (Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW Twin Cities, MLS Live on ESPN+, SKOR North)

MINNESOTA UNITED QUOTE SHEET

MINNESOTA UNITED HEAD COACH ADRIAN HEATH


On if he’s pleased with the point…
“Second half, they obviously put us under a lot of pressure as we expected and they put a lot of balls in our box, but I think if you look at clear, good chances we probably had the better ones. I thought first half we were really dangerous on the counterattacks, perhaps didn’t make enough of it and that final ball at times was maybe not what it should have been. But to come here on the opening day, perform like we’ve done, to drag them off their shape as much as we did, especially in the first half, it bodes well for us. Before the game we expected a point maybe, but in reflection I think we probably had the better chances.”

On how mentality changed with the starting XI changing…
“Well, we had a great preseason and liked knowing we had virtually everyone available, apart from a couple of players. And then this week, you know, Chase [Gasper] got that concussion in Portland, Romain [Metanire] felt a little twitch in his hamstring again so we were not prepared to take the risk with that, and Wil [Trapp] didn’t really respond as much as we thought. At no stage last week did we think that Wil wouldn’t have been available. But the guys that come in had done great. You know, Luis [Amarilla] had a chance early on, I thought Kervin [Arriaga] had a great debut in midfield. It’s difficult in there against a team that plays with a diamond, so they’ve got plenty of bodies in the middle of the pitch and I thought we dealt with it really, really well. I thought [Oniel] Fisher did a really good job, as we expected, to come in and be everything we thought he’d be – experienced, got forward at the right time – so no I felt there was a lot of busy things that had changed for us.”

On giving up 11 corners and the recycled ball…
“Well set piece defending was generally very good, but you consider the size that they have, you know with the big [Cory] Burke and then you got Jack Elliott, [Jakob] Glesnes, you know they’ve got some big whole units in there and their delivery is excellent. [Kai] Wagner puts great balls in the box, so we defended the first one well, second one I don’t think we can pleased, especially because of the goal, but apart from that I thought we did really well their set pieces. Because one thing we spoke about before the game was not giving too many fouls away and I felt like we did, especially the second half and, as I said, Wagner’s got great quality, but we did well, we defended it well.”

On Robin’s consistency up top…
“Well you know considering the off-season, I don’t think people realized that the two months he was in a forest somewhere in Finland. So, you know it’s not been an ideal rest and recovery for him, he’s probably still not over his rest, that’ll be the next few weeks for him. But he’s come in and trained really hard. The one thing we know, that if we can get him service in the box evidently, he finishes. I was a little bit disappointed second half because I thought he had a couple of occasions, you know when it’s on his left foot he can open the goal up, I thought he could have done better. But no, he got a great shift in, as he always does, really always professional. So if we can get him enough opportunities in and around the far post, he’ll do what we expect which is about between eight and 12 goals, which he always does.”

On when he knew he had to go with an improvised lineup and if Arriaga was a late addition…
“[Kervin] Arriaga’s paperwork came through while we were on the team bus going to the hotel last night. So, we got clearance to play him, got his ITC and his visa whilst we were in the air on the way over. You know we were bringing him in the hopes and integrate him in the group even if he wasn’t playing. It was obviously welcomed use for us and for the kid, I thought he had a fantastic debut considering he’s only been with the guys a few days training with them.”

On Bongi Hlongwane potentially getting the start, if Kervin wasn’t available…
“Well that’s for people to find out. Honestly, there’s no point in speculating what might have been. In the end everyone was available and you know, I wanted to get Kervin [Arriaga] in with the team because I felt his physically and his size would have been invaluable today as it proved. He got his head on the end of three or four really dangerous balls into our box, so had we not done that, then we would’ve changed it around and maybe done something else.”

On the final ball in final third…
“There was a couple of times I thought we could have broke and we waited, and you know let them get back. I thought Adrien Hunou could have taken that ball on because, you know, because he was completely clear, although it’s a really good effort and a really good save. I think that if Adrien were to see it again he would see how clear he was and maybe taken it a lot closer. I think that Robin [Lod] had a couple of occasions where I would’ve preferred it, rather than pass it, I would have preferred him to chance his own, cut it in on his left foot like he does. So there was one or two instances, but we’ll go over it, we’ll have a little look and we’ll speak to the players about it, but overall I’m delighted with the first game.”

On the two outside backs, Dibassy and Fisher, performance…
“It’s obvious, [Oniel] Fisher’s an experienced player, he’s played right back, he’s played left back for a lot of games in the league and he proved that today. Found good spots to defend, made a couple of really timely interventions. And [Bakaye] Dibassy, same again, joined in, great foot-great ball down the side for [Franco Fragapane] for the first goal. These are experienced players, they know their role, they know what’s expected of them and I thought they did it.”

On the attack on the opening goal, more cohesion…
“Obviously good goal, and as I’ve always said we’ve got intelligent players who can create and score goals in the final third. I think that the trick was Fragapane looked to see how they were pressing and reacted to that, and then he had the extra touch and that opened it up a little bit for the people in the middle. Needless to say, good run from Luis, leads to create a great finish. Blake, from my money, is one of the best goalkeepers in the league, but you know other than that no problem…good finish. We’ve got plenty to work on (Jacob), you know this group has not been together an awful lot, when you throw Bongokuhle in there, and then you through Luis in there, so there is plenty to work on, a lot to work in and out of their penalty areas with combination play and that’ll be a focus during this next week’s training.”

MIDFIELDER ROBIN LOD
On how what his off-season was like…
“Yeah, I mean, I was doing my military service. My call in Finland and just did everything, what they asked me to do there and just at the same time, trying to keep myself as in good shape as I could. Hopefully, I get a few weeks to play with the team and then get to Portland to have to get, before the season. So I felt pretty good coming into the season, so I’m happy on the condition I’m in.”

On if the team deserved a point or three…
“I mean, of course heading into the game we were looking to get three points because I feel like in the beginning of the season, it’s easier to play on away games than in the middle of the season. So, I mean, I don’t say one point is bad. I feel like as long as the season goes, I mean these points are going to be crucial. So I’m happy for the one point, but I mean, we had enough chances to get the three points, but yeah I think it’s a very, very solid point.”

On the lineup chnage due to the injuries…
“I mean it’s part of the game, it will come, those injuries. I feel like our team this season is really good. We have a lot of good guys, we have a lot of depth. So I feel like if we’re missing a few guys, there’s always a few guys who are happy to come inside and do their job, so I feel confident.”

On the opening goal and partnership with Luis…
“Last as I saw that Fraga [Franco Fragapane] is running down the left side, I always need to be in a situation to let myself get inside the box to get on the places to score. I think pretty early, Fraga saw my run. So around on the so called second play, I mean it was pretty good. Luis [Amarilla] didn’t get the ball, but I think at the same moment he might have confused the defense to give me more time and space, so yeah I got a good kick on the ball and I’m happy for the goal.”

On if he was surprised that the ball from Franco Fragapane came to him and not Luis…
“No, I think when the ball was getting out from Fraga’s leg, I felt like it was coming towards me. Yeah, I didn’t think that Luis [Amarilla] was going to get it because the goalie getting behind him.”

On the hole in the midfield in the second half…
“I feel like it starts because it’s the first game of the season. I feel like all the players and teams are not in the best shape they can be. Eventually at the end of the games, the team is going to stretch out and really early in the second half, if there’s no midfield then it’s so back and forth, back and forth. I feel like it this is just because it’s so early in the season, so it happens.”

On if it’s a relief to get the first game under his belt before returning home to Allianz Field…
“I don’t think this is something to construct. I feel like it will be our first game home, and everybody’s moving forward, with the first game over now. As a second game, I feel like everybody’s happy to get back home. Maybe it helps a little bit to get the first game out of the way, to get the nerves out. So, I feel so happy to go play in Allianz Field, I love playing in front of our fans, and the atmosphere is always so electric, but I’m excited to go back to play at Allianz Field and yeah, I feel really confident.”

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