Allianz Field’s grounds crew worked overnight watering, tamping, manicuring and loving up the grass that had been laid only three weeks ago into game condition after St. John’s and St. Thomas played a college football game on it Saturday afternoon.
By Sunday’s playoff debut, it was green and firmer than it had been much of the season when drainage issues damaged roots in sections of the field.
“The field [condition was] good considering what we’ve gone through and what was on it [Saturday],” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. “It was better than what we’ve been playing on recently. Fair dues to the grounds man and his crew for what they had to put up with the last couple weeks.
“They’ve done an incredible job to get the field in the condition it was in. The pitch played well.”
During April’s scoreless tie at Allianz Field, L.A. Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up a big chunk of grass after his slide tore in the turf and threw it back at the hole he created. There were no such theatrics Sunday.
When asked if the field affected the game, United goalkeeper Vito Mannone said, “I don’t think so. Listen, we played all season with bubbles and some problems on the pitch. [Sunday], the pitch didn’t cut up as much. The ball was bouncing a little bit, but it’s the same field for us, the same field for them.”
Loons coach Adrian Heath adjusted his first 11 Sunday by designating star Darwin Quintero a substitute after Quintero had been ill during the week leading to Sunday’s game with L.A. Galaxy. He entered the game for Ethan Finlay in the 60th minute.
Instead, Heath started Finlay, Angelo Rodriguez, Kevin Molino and Robin Lod and made Mason Toye, Hassani Dotson and Abu Danladi subs as well.
The team’s leading goal scorer with 10 and its highest-paid player, Quintero also did not start the U.S. Open Cup final the United played at Atlanta in August.
MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara started at his center-back spot wearing a protective facial mask that he wore in training last week.
Heath had said Opara had taken a hit to the nose and might need surgery on his nasal area at season’s end.
United striker Toye was born mere months before Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic played his first pro game for Malmo back home in Sweden. Toye has scored six goals in his pro career, Ibrahimovic 542.
“He is an icon,” Toye said. “I grew up watching him play for Barcelona, Inter Milan, the list goes on. He’s somebody I looked up to, but once the whistle blows, he’s just another guy, just another opponent.”
Sunday’s game was the nightcap to a weekend of six MLS first-round playoff games. United rookie midfielder Dotson, his teammates and his coaches watched some or most of the other five games.
“Of course,” Dotson said. “I have a bunch of friends all over the league and also to scout for the next rounds.”
Back from camp
Toye scored another goal while away with the U.S. Under-23 national team during the two-week break between the regular season and playoffs. He scored shortly after coming on in the 57th minute of a 6-1 victory over El Salvador that ended a week’s camp in Miami.
“Very hot,” he said about the camp. “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, but I got a lot of good learning experience. I enjoyed myself and capped it off with a goal.”