Blaine, Minn. (Saturday, May 24th, 2014) – On a picture perfect day at the National Sports Center Stadium, league-leading Minnesota United FC (5W-1D-1L, 16 pts) and the Carolina RailHawks (3W-2D-2L, 11 pts) played a scoreless ninety minutes before a record crowd of 6,784. While both teams had spells of possession, it was United who got the golden scoring opportunities, but on two occasions was denied by point blank stops from RailHawks goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. Two late red cards against the Loons would mar the home team’s efforts, but the scoreline would not budge.
“You have to walk off the field, first and foremost being proud of the guys because we ended the game down two men and still produced a chance or two to win the game and didn’t give anything up,” said United Head Coach Manny Lagos. ”We’ve got a point and it makes things in the league a bit more difficult. Every game is an opportunity in some shape or form, but we’re still going to go into next week excited about our final two games on the road and see what we can do.”
Minnesota United looked to control the game early, convinced it could implement a possession-oriented game plan against the RailHawks, who have yet to win on the road this season and have been outscored 1-8 in the process. It bore dividends early, with the Loons holding the ball in the Carolina third. After ten minutes on their heels, the visitors began to gain some momentum, but similarly struggled to get clean opportunities.
United had a sterling chance to get on the scoreboard in the twenty-first minute, after Christian Ramirez and Daniel Mendes combined with a slick give-and-go that left the Brazilian midfielder in alone on Fitzgerald. But the RailHawks goalkeeper stayed big and blocked Mendes’ attempt to chip with his upper body. Just two minutes later, the home side nearly went up on the scoresheet, and again Ramirez was the provider. This time he released Miguel Ibarra at the top of the box, but the speedy midfielder could not beat Fitzgerald and the score remained level.
Soon after this flurry of chances, the Loons were forced into a substitution, as Tiago Calvano made way with an unknown injury and Greg Jordan replaced him. The substitution also brought along a tactical change, as defensive midfielder Aaron Pitchkolan dropped into central defense and Jordan took the spot of the United captain.
Little was changed in the second half, and neither team found itself able to build a rhythm. Early on, RailHawks Head Coach Colin Clarke made two substitutions, bringing on Ty Shipalane and Mike Grella, two players who had been starting for Carolina in previous games. In the 69th minute, United was forced to make a second injury substitution, after VanOekel caught a deflected floater awkwardly and was unable to get up. Mitch Hildebrandt rapidly warmed up and entered the game.
The addition of Omar Daley for Simone Bracalello in the 77th minute completed the substitutions for the home side, but nothing, it seemed, could provide the answer for either team and the game progressed through the later stages with neither side mustering much of a chance.
Things started to break down completely late. In the 87th minute, a midfield turnover led Cristiano Dias to slide in with his studs showing and referee Sorin Stoica reached for his back pocket and pulled a straight red card, United’s first of the season. It would not be the last. After a flying Minnesota counterattack was repelled, Omar Daley came charging in with speed and upended Albadawi inside the center circle. Again, Stoica would not hesitate, pulling out the red card and forcing United to play with 9 men.
Drastically reduced in strength, the Loons were able to close out the game without conceding, even winning a corner that was claimed by the sure-handed Fitzgerald.
In the end, it was a frustrating result for both teams, although United will doubtless be disappointed to not capitalize on the stumbles of the Cosmos and Strikers. A win could’ve handed Minnesota an almost insurmountable five-point lead with two games remaining. Instead, United remains three points clear of the field heading into Spring Season ending road fixtures against Tampa Bay and Atlanta.