Here we go again.
4 minutes into the match everyone in the stands at TCF Bank Stadium felt it. Another goal conceded by Minnesota United in the first 20 minutes of play. Opening night in Portland: 14th minute. Game 2 against Atlanta: third minute. Game 3 in Colorado: 17th minute. Game 4 in New England: 4th minute. Not a pattern for success by any means.
It is a tough enough task for a first year club to win in Major League Soccer. Starting every game of your MLS existence in the hole has made for a winless inaugural season so far. So when Real Salt Lake scored in the fourth minute who could blame Loons fans for feeling “here we go again.” They didn’t feel that way though. MNUFC decided that tonight they were going to fight back, they were going to get Real.
Christian Ramirez Heroics Lead Minnesota United to First MLS Win
As mentioned before, RSL opened the scoring four minutes in. Right back Chris Wingert hammered a low cross into the box. Recently returning from international duty (Costa Rica), United center back Francisco Calvo slipped attempting to head it away. The ball dropped right to the feet of RSL winger Luke Mulholland who calmly placed a fantastic shot past Loons keeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the lower left hand corner.
Groans emanated from the crowd. But enthusiasm would grow as the Loons attack looked quite dangerous over the next 10 minutes.
The threatening attack culminated in the 16th minute when Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas, both returning to the lineup from World Cup qualifiers (Trinidad & Tobago and Costra Rica respectively) ripped down the right side of the pitch. Loons midfielder Collen Warner started the attack with a pass to Molino charging into the offensive zone. RSL would then have two unfortunate bounces that would lead to the tying goal. Real stripped the ball from Molino only to have it land at the feet of Venegas. Venegas then drove deep down the right side of the box and attempted to cross it low to a waiting Ramirez. The cross deflected up in the air off RSL defender Wingert. Molino, still charging into the box from up the pitch headed it perfectly into the upper right hand corner before violently colliding with Wingert. Real keeper Nick Rimando had no chance, and MNUFC equalized.
The chemistry between those two wingers and forward Christian Ramirez has been evident since preseason and it wouldn’t be the last time we shouted those three names on this night. A chippy first half would end seeing two Loons receive two yellow cards and plenty of scoring chances. The score remained tied going into the locker room.
Minnesota picked up right where they left off to start the second half, attacking early and often. The announced crowd of 17,000 plus could feel goals coming and they wouldn’t have to wait long. In the 52nd minute, Swiss right back Jerome Thiesson served a great long ball to Ramirez about 15 yards from the box. Ramirez then played a beautiful give and go with Molino that resulted with him alone at the penalty spot. He deftly chipped it over a helpless Rimando. The stadium erupted and MNUFC took a 2-1 lead.
The next 10 minutes saw more chances for the Loons including Rimando making a great save against Winger Baskim Kadrii.
The 62nd minute saw a goal that will make the highlight reels for all the wrong reasons. Kadrii hit a long ball to Ramirez that Rimando came out to cut off. Five yards outside his box Rimando chested the ball out of the air then swung his right leg awkwardly missing the volley, the ball fell behind him as he spun around. Still charging forward Ramirez took the the ball from behind Rimando and walked it the length of the box before smashing it in the net at the goal line to give the home team a two-goal lead.
Even United fans probably couldn’t help but feel for Rimando. He has one of the most distinguished goal keeping careers in US soccer history. He is the MLS record holder in shutouts and lead the US national team to a Gold Cup victory in 2013.
For those of us lucky enough to have watched Christian Ramirez throughout his NASL days this goal came as no surprise. His motor never stops, often chasing seemingly harmless balls out of his reach, challenging keepers when they are not expecting it and scoring goals.
That goal was his fourth through five games, good enough for second in MLS. It is wonderful seeing that his talent translates at the MLS level. He won the Golden Boot in the NASL in 2014 and scored 51 goals in 90 appearances before making the jump with the club to the MLS. It is no wonder why fans in the Twin Cities call him Superman.
Minnesota was not done scoring yet. A little over five minutes later, RSL defender Justin Schmidt had his pocket picked by Molino. This left only Wingert and Rimando to stop the triple threat of Molino, Venegas and Ramirez. They both went out to challenge Molino who calmly passed it to a wide open Venegas just to right of the penalty spot. He easily hit it home for his first goal as a Loon. The MNUFC lead expanded to 4-1.
Real Salt Lake designated player and Armenian international Yura Movsisyan would score in the 87th minute, but it was too little too late for RSL. This was Minnesota’s night. The game finished 4-2 and the Loons had their first victory in the MLS.
Consistency over the long haul will be the key for Minnesota. Over their first five games they have looked like the worst team in the history of MLS. They have also looked like a solid, if not dangerous team that could make the MLS playoffs. They must find a way to play more like the team I saw tonight and in Colorado a few weeks back, and less like the team I saw against Portland, Atlanta and New England.
That being said, tonight was one of the most thrilling and exciting sporting events I have ever witnessed. Having seen pretty much every game in person or on TV over the last five years, it was truly amazing. Watching NASL carryovers like Justin Davis, Brent Kallman, Ibson, Miguel Ibarra and Ramirez, alongside the new players get their first MLS victory was fantastic. I was lucky enough to witness history with my family and 17,000 other Minnesota United fans. I was there when Minnesota got Real.