Bongokuhle Hlongwane, 23, put his name up next to Lionel Messi — and then surpassed him, casually and of course with a smile.

Hlongwane's third brace Friday in as many matches ballooned his Leagues Cup goal total to six, now the tournament's most ahead of Messi, FC Cincinnati's Brandon Vázquez and CF Monterrey's Germán Berterame, tied at five.

Under the bright lights at Field, it was just another match for Minnesota United's rising right-wing star to make the pitch his playground.

"He's taken a great leap this season and pushed himself in turning some of those chances into goals," Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair said. "Anytime with an international player, it's expected that he's going to take a little bit of time to settle in."

His teammates eventually joined in on the fun, because they had to.

To cap an evening otherwise highlighted by Columbus Crew's offensive master class, St. Clair carried the Loons through an epic 4-3 shootout. His back-to-back saves set up left center back Miguel Tapias' winner, which came after five consecutive unsuccessful penalty kicks between the teams.

MNUFC will return home for its round of 16 match on Tuesday against Toluca FC, which overwhelmed Sporting Kansas City in a 4-1 Friday win.

When the dust settled, St. Clair had five saves and only three goals to his name — rather impressive considering the Crew's 67.9% possession time, which resulted in eight shots on goal.

"Obviously once it goes to penalties, then it's a coin toss," Heath said. "We had a little bit of fortune. And the fortune was with Dayne, because Dayne made two or three big saves, didn't dive early and commit himself. He deserved what he got."

It looked as if Columbus left its visitors' chances moot, after who other than ex-Loons forward Christian Ramírez tapped in a close-range goal to conclude yet another clinical offensive possession for his club. Malte Amundsen sent a textbook through ball to Yaw Yeboah, who had the easy decision to drop off an assist to the Crew's second-leading goal scorer — behind elite striker Lucas Zelarayán, who was transferred Monday to Saudi Arabian side Al Fateh.

But the Loons weren't ready to concede.

Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso did what he does best, setting up Hassani Dotson for a 90th-minute equalizer that fittingly required the high-octane round of 32 match to be decided on penalties.

"We never gave in all night," Heath said. "Even though it was the 90th minute, every time we broke, we broke with three or four men and you've always got to believe that you're going to get one more chance.

"It shows you something about the character of the group."

The game's first goal came after a fast break that Reynoso initiated, Teemu Pukki furthered and Hlongwane finished. It was a sight for Loons fans to savor — and then the 23-year-old South African added another.

MNUFC coach Adrian Heath has lauded Hlongwane this season for his newfound willingness to stick himself into the right running lanes and fight for positioning in the box, all of which paid off on the other end of a critical Joseph Rosales cross in the 54th minute.

Columbus had jumped ahead 2-1 just minutes prior on a well-set-up offensive possession that concluded with a goal for Alexandru Matan, before Hlongwane bodied — yes, bodied — in his second goal only a few feet from the goal line.

Heath once said that headers weren't his thing, after all.


MNUFC secured $175,000 in 2023 General Allocation Money from LAFC Friday for the discovery priority rights to Uruguayan 21-year-old forward Cristian Olivera, per a team press release. Not long after the exchange, LAFC then announced the signing of Olivera under the U-22 initiative. Olivera logged 10 goals and eight assists across 38 appearances with Uruguayan club Boston River while on loan from La Liga side Almería.

Later Friday, the Loons acquired the first refusal rights for Toronto FC midfielder Liam Fraser to then exchange it with FC Dallas for $100k of 2024 GAM — double the initial investment.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.