There was a lot of worry for Minnesota United heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Columbus Crew. The Western Conference side hadn’t played particularly well in its final two group stage matches and were facing a Crew team undefeated in the MLS is Back Tournament.
90 minutes and a dramatic shootout win later and the Loons are pushing forward in the knockout stage. Tyler Miller saved Chris Cadden’s penalty effort while his teammates compiled a perfect 5-for-5 mark from the spot. Now Adrian Heath’s side have new life heading into Saturday’s quarterfinal date with the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I think we’ve played our way into the tournament,” Heath said postmatch. “I think we’ve got progressively better. Every game. And, we had to be better tonight. We played a really good team. They’re a well-coached team. They’re well-drilled. And they put you in dangerous spots.”
“But I actually thought the change in shape and our midfield three there, actually worked really well for us. I thought at the end – whether we would have won the penalties or not – it’s six games now that we haven’t been beaten. When you look at people we have been missing at times, I think it speaks volumes for the group, and the commitment to the full squad.”
The Loons finished group stage play with five points from three matches, but drew their matches against Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. Robin Lod’s first goal for the club handed the Crew their first conceded goal in the tournament and also gave the Finnish midfielder some needed confidence.
Lod and his teammates didn’t get many chances with the ball on Tuesday night with Columbus out possessing the Loons 64%-to-36%. However, the 27-year-old made the most of his only chance on Tuesday and overall put in a strong shift in midfield.
“It feels so good, good to score,” Lod said. “I mean the game was really good for us as a team and we worked so hard as a team and had a good result, and today was my turn to score a goal, but the important thing is that we went through as a team.”
“I wasn’t that worried [on finally breaking his goalless drought] because I know I’ve been in those chances and it’s been just a matter of time to get on the scoresheet. So of course it’s nice that it came at this point and it brings some more confidence for sure for the next games.”
After a strong defensive performance by the Loons, their fate came down to a penalty shootout thanks to Gyasi Zardes’ late equalizer. Tyler Miller denied Cadden’s effort in the third round before Raheem Edwards and Chase Gasper sealed the win with successful finishes.
It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it was enough to advance the Loons into this weekend’s quarterfinals. The club’s current unbeaten run in 2020 was extended to six matches and has owned the recent head-to-head rivalry with San Jose heading into this weekend’s clash.
Since losing their first four all-time league meetings to the Earthquakes, the Loons have won three in a row including a 5-2 triumph at Avaya Stadium back in March. Saturday’s showdown will come with an extra edge in Orlando with the Loons finding their groove at the right time of the tournament.
“I thought we were better this evening,” Heath said. “I think we’re growing into the tournament. I think we’ve got better each game. I thought we were better again tonight. We haven’t done well enough with the ball in the opposing half. At times, we’re too quick, we’re too hurried. We don’t compose ourselves and move the ball around enough.”
“We want to go and demand it now. And, that’s something we spoke about and that’s something that we’re going to need to do. We’re going to need to possess the ball better than we have done against San Jose. Because that’s one of their strengths. They keep the ball, they spread you out. It will be a new challenge for us at the weekend. For sure.”