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There was a stark yin and yang to Minnesota United’s 4-4 draw with Portland Timbers on Saturday.
The Loons couldn’t have started the match any worse, but their response couldn’t have been more resounding — at least for the duration of the first half.
The Timbers took the opening kickoff, strung together seven passes that culminated with a Sebastian Blanco goal just 14 seconds into the match. Minnesota had yet to even touch the ball.
It was the fastest goal MNUFC has conceded in its MLS history, besting Montreal’s Anthony Jackson-Hamels finish 27 seconds into Minnesota’s 3-2 win in July 2019. Blanco’s goal was the fourth-fastest in league history.
Captain center back Michael Boxall said “everyone is kind of fired up” for the nationally televised game on ABC, and “maybe you’re a little bit too excited to do things you don’t necessarily do so you take a half step too early and that just gives them space.”
But Minnesota answered with three goals — Franco Fragpane’s header on a corner kick in the ninth minute, Bongi Hlongwane rebound in 21st and Luis Amarilla’s individual playmaking in 41st — to take a 3-1 lead that appeared comfortable.
The Loons’ restart, however, was worse than the match’s onset. MNUFC allowed three goals across 15 minutes, including an own goal charged to Kemar Lawrence, to fall behind 4-3 in the 65th minute.
Manager Adrian Heath said there was no adjustment at halftime to stay behind the ball with the lead. “I wanted more of the same,” he said. “We just didn’t defend well enough. As I say, the back four and the goalkeeper have had a lot of praise this year and quite rightfully so. (Saturday), it wasn’t good enough and they know that.”
The last thing Heath said to the players at halftime: “Do not give them something to believe in.”
Portland, the MLS Cup runner-up and team that bounced the Loons out of the 2021 playoffs, had plenty of faith when they took the lead until Amarilla’s second goal madeit 4-4 in the 69th minute.
“It’s looking more like the Luis we know we’ve got,” Heath said. “His ball retention has been so much better in the last few weeks. He’s now looking a goal threat. The chance he had with the header late on is Luis at his best.”
Minnesota (10-8-5) extended its unbeaten streak to seven games; Portland (7-6-10) pushed its unbeaten run to eight.
While Minnesota’s two comebacks can be looked at positively, the Loons coughing up a two-goal halftime lead to drop two points at home didn’t sit well. “Massively disappointing,” Boxall said.
Heath added: “It feels like a defeat now, but it isn’t. In the cold light of day, seven games ago, would we have taken five wins and two draws, you bet we would have. But now, it doesn’t feel too good.”
Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod and Boxall were each issued yellow cards in the second half, and due to card accumulations, the trio will be suspended for the next MLS game against Colorado Rapids on Aug. 6. Reynoso, who booking was a completely avoidable challenge, will be able to rest before his appearance in the MLS All-Star Game on Aug. 10. … Reynoso and Kervin Arriaga returned from ankle injuries to make the starting XI. Lod remained in central midfield for a sixth-straight game and was paired with Arriaga for the first time. … MNUFC supporters in the Wonderwall sections unveiled a tifo with the message “this game belongs to all of us.” It was in support of the club’s annual pride game on Saturday. … Loons new fullback Alan Benitez subbed into his second straight game Saturday, and Heath said the Paraguyan is getting closer to starting matches. … After not scoring in his first 1,000-plus MLS minutes this season, Bongi Hlongwane has scored twice in his last 100 minutes. … Former Loons fullback Jerome Thiesson reunited with Loons folks in St. Paul on Saturday. The 34-year-old Swiss man recently retired from soccer and is on a countrywide U.S. vacation with his wife and two young children.