ORLANDO – Some players joined in on a group hug. Others immediately sat on the ground in exhaustion. One hobbled on crutches.
The scene on the pitch after Minnesota United beat Orlando City 2-1 on Saturday was the picture of relief, thanks to a hard-fought game that neither injuries nor adversity could derail for United against coach Adrian Heath’s former club.
“It’s passion,” winger Ethan Finlay said. “It was a big game.”
In front of an announced 24,038 for Heath’s first trip to Orlando City Stadium, which he helped build during his eight seasons with the club before his firing in 2016, United secured its first three points of the MLS season and its first road result — two milestones that took significantly longer in the inaugural 2017 season. United stands at 1-1 while Orlando fell to 0-1-1.
Finlay was involved in all three Loons goals. First, his deft touch on a perfectly timed Kevin Molino through ball to keep him onside put their team up in the 12th minute.
But the winger then caught Orlando midfielder Richie Laryea just inside the box a few minutes before halftime. While the referee initially awarded a free kick, a lengthy video assistant referee review eventually changed that call to a penalty that midfielder Yoshimar Yotun converted.
Finlay said it was a smart play on Laryea’s part to put his body in the way, and with how fast the play moved in real time, Finlay had no way of controlling being inside or outside the box.
“The rule is clear and obvious, so to overturn a VAR, he must have seen something obvious,” Finlay said. “Either way, it took a long time for the decision to be made, which I think was frustrating for everybody.”
Finlay’s game-winner with about 10 minutes to go was a nice combination play, as two second-half substitutes helped make it possible. Outside back Jerome Thiesson passed to rookie Mason Toye, making his MLS debut. His quick touch to fellow sub Miguel Ibarra led to a nice ball across the box for Finlay to finish.
It was a momentous moment, considering Loons star playmaker Molino, also facing his old club, left the game on a stretcher about five minutes into the second half.
Shortly before the penalty in the first half, Molino appeared to injure his left knee but stayed in the game. In the second half, he crumpled to the ground on a noncontact play. While it initially looked like his right knee that time — the same knee he tore his ACL in during the 2015 season — the team later confirmed it was his left knee that was the problem. Molino appeared on the sidelines about 10 minutes after the injury using crutches and was walking around the locker room without them after the game.
Heath said it “doesn’t look good” for Molino, but he will know more of the extent of it Monday. Sam Nicholson also limped off because of a left hamstring injury in the second half, but the winger said it was mostly a precautionary move.
Heath, though, started his postgame news conference greeting a room full of familiar faces and then had to apologize halfway through as his phone continually pinged with messages.
“I’m pleased that we’ve got the result, but I do hope that [Orlando] can win more games and get up the table because it’s still one of the first results I look for every week,” Heath said. “You don’t spend the time I did here and not have some emotional attachment.
“It becomes more than wins and losses.”