Saturday night’s regular-season finale meant nothing to Minnesota United’s playoff position but a great deal toward the Loons’ postseason aspirations.
The usual starters took the field. Their first-half intensity impressed coach Manny Lagos. And the end result, a 2-2 draw with San Antonio, meant an announced National Sports Center Stadium crowd of 5,890 saw the Loons complete a solid 8-6-1 home record.
New York’s victory Saturday means United, the No. 3 seed in the North American Soccer League playoffs, plays next Sunday at Ottawa in the semifinals. Minnesota went 1-1-1 overall against the Fury this season, picking up a loss and a victory on the road.
“We don’t need to be afraid to play at their house,” Loons forward Pablo Campos said. “The semifinals are all about whoever is more mentally prepared, who makes less mistakes and who is going to capitalize on mistakes.”
Fighting back for a draw Saturday pleased Lagos. He said he didn’t see a full 90-minute effort but understood the challenge his players faced.
“It’s hard to manage a second half right before the playoffs when they want to get through the half healthy and fit, without cards or drama,” Lagos said.
Drama came after halftime as United battled to tie the score twice, the second goal coming in stoppage time.
San Antonio scored in the 54th minute as Billy Forbes beat Loons defender Aaron Pitchkolan and sent a ball toward Giuseppe Gentile. A diving Sammy Ndjock couldn’t get to ball and Gentile sent it past the beaten goalkeeper for a 1-0 San Antonio lead.
A sagging United team got a lift as Daniel Mendes drew a foul in the box and set up a penalty kick. Campos buried his shot in the 70th minute to tie the score 1-1.
The Scorpions retook the lead 2-1 in the 85th minute as Ndjock found himself in an unenviable position. The ball bounced past Ndjock, who then was forced to pursue Kristopher Trypak from behind. Ndjock was called for a foul that resulted in a Rafael Castillo penalty kick goal.
“He read the play really well but I think he misread the skip and then whether he was inside or outside of his box,” Lagos said. “It wasn’t really a big situation until he created it.”
The Loons weren’t finished. Kalif Alhassan, taking a free kick, booted the ball toward the Scorpions goal. Kevin Venegas leaped and redirected the ball, which bounced off goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes for a stoppage time equalizer.
“It wouldn’t have been good to finish the regular season with a loss at home,” Campos said.