Minnesota control second half to book ticket to U.S. Open Cup final

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HARRISON, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 06: Abu Danladi #99 of Minnesota United celebrates his goal with teammate Jan Gregus #8 in the first half against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on April 06, 2019 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Saint Paul, Minnesota — You’d never be able to tell Minnesota United was playing in its biggest game to date on Wednesday night. But controlling the second half, the Loons kept the Portland Timbers at bay, winning 2-1 to advance to the U.S. Open Cup final.

A pair of goals from Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye was enough to see Minnesota to its first-ever final appearance.

Minnesota shows no nerves in the second half

Leading by a goal with 15 minutes remaining in the game, you’d expect Minnesota to be pinned back in their own half. But Adrian Heath was having none of that, as his side controlled the pace of the game primarily in Portland’s half for most of the second half.

The Loons struck the first blow in the first half off a Quintero penalty in the 22nd minute. Moments prior, Quintero fired a freekick goalward into Portland’s wall, but a raised arm from Claude Dielna forced referee Ismail Elfath to point to the spot.

Portland tied the game up on the stroke of halftime thanks to a goal from Brian Fernandez. Fernandez was played through off an excellent first-time pass from Jeremy Ebobisse before slotting the ball home. With no VAR in play in the U.S. Open Cup, the home crowd at Allianz Field was certain the play was offside. Yet replays later showed that Fernandez was narrowly onside.

But the home crowd didn’t stay angry for too long, as 20-year-old Mason Toye put the game to bed in the 64th minute. Receiving a long ball, Toye beat Dielna for pace before taking a touch and curling the ball around Steve Clark.

“[Kevin Molino] put a great ball in, I took it down and picked my spot and put the ball in the goal,” Toye said after the game, with a composure far beyond his years.

Magnificent Mannone

Minnesota may have controlled possession in the second half, but goalkeeper Vito Mannone still put in a top-class performance. The Italian made six saves, with several of them requiring heroic dives to the far corners of the goal. Portland’s Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco both tested his reflexes throughout the game.

The former Reading and Sunderland keeper even had to protect against friendly fire at one point. Romain Metanire attempted to head the ball over his own bar in the 25th minute, instead forcing Mannone into a reflex save.

It’s safe to say Minnesota wouldn’t have been in such a comfortable position if not for Mannone’s heroics.

Too little too late

Portland star man Diego Valeri interestingly started on the bench for Giovanni Savarese on Wednesday night. A man who you either fully rest of play a full 90, Valeri was unable to provide much of a spark when he finally appeared.

Coming on in the 72nd minute for Asprilla, Minnesota did an excellent job of keeping the ball away from the Argentine.

2017 Expansion Bowl

With the victory, Minnesota will advance to its first-ever final in all competitions. Facing off against Atlanta United on August 27, both sides are also playing in their first-ever US Open Cup final.

But the two clubs are linked in more ways than that.

They both earned membership to MLS in 2017, quickly rising to two of the most dominant teams in the league. Atlanta United leads the head-to-head 3-1, with Minnesota’s sole win being the first matchup between the two teams in 2017.

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