Minnesota United can’t really complain about its luck anymore.
The Loons have opined about missed calls and unflattering results recently. That momentum seemed to turn in their favor with a 1-1 draw against Western conference leader Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium in front of an announced sellout crowd of 23,117.
“Second half, we never really got going, and we rode our luck a little bit,” coach Adrian Heath said. “I would have to be honest: I would have settled for a point with about 20 minutes to go because I thought they looked the more likely to go and win the game.”
United improved to 4-7-1, and Kansas City remains on top of the conference at 7-2-3.
The Loons looked a little doomed to repeat themselves at the very start. Striker Christian Ramirez could have put United ahead early in the sixth minute after a series of throw-ins led to playmaker Darwin Quintero’s low cross. But Ramirez’s tap-in past Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia was offside. Then two minutes later, Kansas City forward Johnny Russell’s corner kick found forward Khiry Shelton’s head. He beat United center back Francisco Calvo on the individual battle while goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth elected not to come off his line and challenge for the ball.
Heath said that after his team weathered those dramatic first minutes he felt good about how the players were doing, especially winger Miguel Ibarra, who was able to find the holes in the Kansas City lineup.
“It was exactly how last year was: Both fullbacks are always high up,” Ibarra said. “So our game plan was for me to always keep making those runs. I have been doing that all year, so just keep doing it. It worked out for us.”
It worked so well that Kansas City made a rare first-half substitution, changing left back Jimmy Medranda, who was marking Ibarra, for Seth Sinovic. That rather flattering move surprised Ibarra.
“I am sure they caught on to it right away,” Ibarra said. “And [Kansas City coach Peter Vermes] tried to fix it by putting another more defensive player in there.”
Ibarra directed the comeback in the 20th minute. Quintero headed Ibarra’s cross on goal, and Melia failed to control it. So Quintero collected his own rebound for the equalizer.
Kansas City attacked for the rest of the match and ended the game with 24 shots, including 10 on goal; Shuttleworth tied his career high of nine saves. United ended the game with six shots, four on goal.
“Even last year, we would have lost this game. I do believe that,” Heath said. “We’re now starting to get a little bit more of a steely resolve around us and a determination to not concede goals.”
Shuttleworth said it’s important for playoff chances to hang on to at least a point in games like this.
“To get in the playoffs, it’s results like that where you’re picking up a point here and there when you didn’t deserve it that usually make the difference in being around the hunt,” he said.