The hosts partied on for at least one more night in the first — and hopefully last — MLS is Back tournament while Minnesota United was sent home by Orlando City’s 3-1 semifinal victory Thursday night.
United left no longer unbeaten in 2020 play, not after Orlando City star Nani proved the bit that big players make big plays with two first-half goals that were too much. Orlando got its third goal in the last minute of second-half stoppage time after the Loons pushed nearly everyone forward.
The Lions advance to Tuesday’s final against Portland with a CONCACAF Champions League spot, $1.1 million and prestige that goes with winning an event created to get MLS playing again after a four-month pandemic pause.
Far bigger underdogs when this all started than the Loons, the Lions did so as a top seed for being tournament hosts. It was not a very hospitable role after the Lions went 2-0-1 in Group A stage and beat mighty LAFC on penalty kicks in a quarterfinal.
“Any time you leave a tournament without taking away any silverware, it’s disappointing,” Loons defender Michael Boxall said. “Everyone outside this group might have had different expectations for us. We went into every game knowing we can win and that sure was the case [Thursday]. It’s very disappointing to lose whether it’s a MLS playoff game or some Mickey Mouse Cup. It hurts pretty bad.”
Facing his former franchise that he truly built, Loons coach Adrian Heath started second-year midfielder Hassani Dotson on his 23rd birthday at right back for the second consecutive game for injured star defender Romain Metanire. Until Thursday, Heath was 2-0-1 against his former team.
It was a crucial matchup that placed the former second-round pick from Oregon State against Portuguese star Nani, the former Manchester United winger who also has played in Spain’s and Turkey’s top leagues since Dotson was eight years old.
On Thursday, he showed why Orlando City paid him nearly $2.5 million last season. His perfect one-touch goal on the run finished off teammate Robin Jansson’s long, high ball played forward and gave his team a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
Six minutes later, Dotson and others spotted Nani too much room on the left side and he bent a 20-yard strike around diving goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s outstretched hands and just inside the far, lower right post in the 42nd minute.
“His second goal was a quality goal from a quality player,” Heath said afterward by video conference call. “The first goal is our fault. We should have done a lot more with it. You can’t get beat with a 75-yard ball over the back four.”
Nani celebrated his second goal that held up as the winner with a cartwheel and backflip. The Loons controlled play the first 30 minutes, but they didn’t get their first shot on target until the 75th minute.
Molino subbed in with Mason Toye and Aaron Schoenfeld in the 60th minute, but Toye’s left-footed goal on the run in the 82nd minute was not enough. Toye and Dotson both missed prime scoring chances in the final 14 minutes.
Lightning delayed the game’s start more than an hour. The teams remained at their resort hotel where they have been sequestered all these weeks until they arrived by bus about 40 minutes before kickoff.
The Loons arrived in Orlando by chartered flight on June 28 and has spent the last five-plus weeks there sequestered in a Disney area resort.
Now they finally go home.
“They made plays when they needed to,” Loons veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said. “But I feel really good what this group did here and what they accomplished. The disappointing feeling we have in our gut isn’t that we got outplayed. That’s the disappointing part.
“You get to this part of the competition and you want to win it not for the money, but for the pride. We feel like we let ourselves down [Thursday].”
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida for MLS, NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.