With his team ahead by two goals early in Saturday’s match, Minnesota United FC coach Manny Lagos expected more sterling soccer to follow.
Instead, United stumbled against Indy Eleven, suffering an own goal and missing a golden scoring chance. Lagos found reason to smile, however, when captain Aaron Pitchkolan restored a two-goal lead just before halftime.
The goal was the match-winner as United defeated Indy Eleven 3-2 and remained alone atop the North American Soccer League spring season standings with a 4-0 record.
“It was my favorite moment in the match,” Lagos said. “We could have put our heads down, but we really responded.”
Like his coach, Pitchkolan took mixed feelings from Saturday’s match, played before an announced crowd of 4,913 at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
“It’s great to be on top of the table, but I think our best soccer is ahead of us,” Pitchkolan said. “We’re hoping to put a full game together and dominate from start to finish.”
New faces in the starting lineup helped Minnesota control the first 25 minutes en route to a 3-1 halftime lead.
Simone Bracalello and Daniel Mendes, both making their first starts this season, played prominent roles in the first two goals.
A cross from Bracalello looked to create a goal from Mendes in the 23rd minute. But “before I shot the ball it jumped,” Mendes said. The ball trickled toward Christian Ramirez, who buried his team-leading third goal this season.
Two minutes later, Bracalello raced from the pack and sent the ball toward Mendes once again. This time he shot and scored for a 2-0 United lead.
Indy Eleven threatened to cut the lead on a free kick in the 28th minute. But United goalkeeper Matt VanOekel dived left to stop the ball as it screamed past a wall of bodies.
The visitors got a gift from Bracalello, whose clearing attempt went directly into the United goal in the 42nd minute and cut his team’s lead to 2-1.
The goal was the first allowed by Minnesota in the first half this season.
“We’ll give him a hard time later about it,” Pitchkolan said.
Pitchkolan gave his team a lift after the own goal and a near-miss from Ramirez.
Miguel Ibarra passed to Pitchkolan, who settled the ball, then fired from 20 yards out for a 3-1 advantage. His goal came during stoppage time in the first half.
Indy Eleven (0-1-3) got within one goal on a penalty kick goal from Jose Kleberson Pereira in second half stoppage time.