Kevin Molino may have scored the big goal, but Aaron Schoenfeld changed Minnesota United’s fortunes on Sunday night.
Molino’s goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time gave the Loons a 2-1 win in their MLS is Back Tournament opener against Sporting Kansas City and made them the only MLS team to take nine points from their first three games. The goal came after Sporting Kansas City was reduced to 10 players thanks to the efforts of Aaron Schoenfeld, who came on as a sub in the 64th minute for an injured Mason Toye.
“It was hard to not like what we saw, [Aaron] was great,” Loons midfielder Ethan Finlay said after the game. “He injected a lot of energy into the group right away. Obviously, he made a game changing play and his first touch on the ball from Romain [Metanire] was world class to draw that red card.”
Schoenfeld had only been on for 10 minutes and he had already smacked a shot off the crossbar that would have tied the game with SKC still at full strength. He caused the red card by using his size to his advantage. Schoenfeld collected a through pass from Metanire by bursting through the SKC defense and leaving him all alone against goalkeeper Tim Melia. Melia had little choice but to challenge the 6-foot-4, 190-pound target man and he ended up committing an obvious foul denying a goal scoring opportunity and was promptly sent off for his trouble.
“Aaron is new to us,” head coach Adrian Heath said. “I had him in Orlando for a brief period, one preseason. I’ve always liked the way that he played. He’s obviously a very big boy. He’s got a great presence. He’s been in really technical football over in Israel for a few years, and his general play is excellent.”
Schoenfeld was a part-time player with the Columbus Crew from 2012 to 2015. He tried his fortunes overseas after the 2015 season by traveling to Israel, where he played with three different clubs between 2016 and January 2020, including picking up minutes on both Hapoel Be’er and Maccabi Tel Aviv, two of the country’s biggest rivals.
He returned to MLS in February and made his first significant impact on Sunday night.
Schoenfeld was the third-choice striker for Minnesota at the beginning of the night, but starter Luis Amarilla picked up a pregame abductor injury and second choice Mason Toye went down around the hour mark, giving Schoenfeld the chance to step up and change the game.
The Knoxville, Tennessee native provides something different from Toye and Amarilla. His large frame makes him an excellent target man for longer balls into the box, yet he still possesses the technical skill on the ball to create plays at his feet like he did when he won the fateful foul against Melia.
“When you’re as big as him – what is he, 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-3 – if we can put quality in the box and get it into him, it does give us a focal point to go and play from,” Heath said.
One of Minnesota’s concerns at kickoff was a lack of depth all over the pitch. Joining the aforementioned Amarilla in the injury ward was midfielder and team leader Ozzie Alonso and defender extraordinaire Ike Opara and it was hard to be confident on how the Loons could manage the business end of a close game. Seeing Schoenfeld step up and unexpectedly provide the boost the Loons needed in the final half hour did a lot to put those fears to rest.
Schoenfeld did everything right and even came inches away from his first goal with his new team. That may have been the only thing he wished had gone differently.
“Afterwards he was just bummed because he wanted to get his first goal with the club,” Finlay said, “but I told him in that moment, he just changed the game for us and that came to fruition with Kevin getting the game-winner late.”
It felt like 2013 Columbus Crew out there with Finlay lobbing crosses up for Shoenfeld…