Underdogs no more, Minnesota United moved into MLS is Back’s semifinals next week by confounding a San Jose team that likes to do some of that itself in a 4-1 quarterfinal victory at ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando.
Still unbeaten this season with a 4-0-2 record, the Loons never trailed against the Earthquakes. Just as the Columbus Crew was against them Tuesday in a knockout-round game, San Jose was the overwhelming Las Vegas favorite on Saturday.
San Jose won the ball possession easily all night, but the Loons won in shots and, most important, goals, doing it without important starters Ike Opara, Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino.
They beat the Earthquakes for a fourth consecutive time since Argentinian coach Matias Almeyda brought his unique “man-marking” defensive system with him to San Jose starting last season. The Loons have won those four games by a combined 15-4 score.
Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath reminded by video conference call after Saturday’s game that his team is “playing ourselves into the tournament” after it hadn’t played any 11-on-11 competition for four months when the MLS season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic until it played its first tournament Group D game.
“But people don’t want to listen to that,” Heath said about a team he suggests hasn’t gotten enough respect so far. “They want to make their own narrative and describe what they think we are and not what I know we are. We’ll be better for tonight’s game as well. So it bodes well.”
The Loons made two goals scored within 90 seconds of each other 20 minutes into the game stand up as their ticket to a MLS is Back semifinal meeting on Thursday with Orlando City. That’s the team Heath breathed Major League Soccer life into after he coached the franchise from its USL years into American soccer’s big leagues.
“Everybody knows my feels toward Orlando City,” Heath said. “You don’t spend the time I did there and not have an incredible fondness for the club.”
The Loons now are two victories away from a cup, a CONCACAF Champions League spot and a chunk of $1.1 million in tournament prize money.
“Confidence within our group keeps going up,” said midfielder Jacori Hayes, who made his first start for injured Kevin Molino and scored the game’s second goal, his first as a Loon and his second in MLS play.”We’re in the final four of this tournament. We’ve been in the bubble for a while now, so we might as well stay a little longer and get the next win.”
Second-year midfielder Hassani Dotson started at Metanire’s right-back position and created both of his team’s early, quick goals. He first started a three-way play with a long crossing pass that ended with Robin Lod’s right-footed volley goal. That was Lod’s second goal in as many games.
Dotson created the second goal as well, though not with the kind of right-side runs that Metanire does so well. Instead, Dotson sent a long left-footed shot on goal that Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega stopped but couldn’t contain. Loons midfielder Ethan Finlay nudged it toward Hayes, a starter Saturday for Molino, who scored on a short powerful shot into an empty goal.
“Just complete ecstasy,” Hayes said. “I was very, very happy … I was just very happy to score.”
When San Jose’s Magnus Erikkson scored on a penalty kick in the 50th minute, Loons striker Luis Amarilla came back with a goal 10 minutes later that made it a two-goal game again. He won a one-on-one battle that Almeyda’s system is prone to surrendering and scored on the run with a left-foot strike from the left side. Loons second-half substitute Marlon Hairston scored late in the game for the final three-goal margin.
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.