KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Minnesota United defender Ike Opara walked off the field of his former home stadium Thursday night for the first time as a visitor, the jerseys of friends and former teammates Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi slung over his shoulder.
The final, a 1-0 Sporting Kansas City victory at Children’s Mercy Park, was familiar to both the Loons and Opara, though he was experiencing it from a different perspective for the first time.
Opara has been a force for Minnesota United this year after spending six seasons in Kansas City. But nothing quite compared him for the experience of returning for the first time.
“[I was surprised by] just how difficult it is, emotionally, and being on the other side of the locker room,” Opara said. “Coming in here, trying to get a result is never easy. The perspective of being an away team here was awakening a bit. But at the end of the day, I thought we did what we could to get a result.”
The Loons have made great strides in their breakthrough 2019 campaign, but the club still is searching for its first point in MLS play in Kansas City. Minnesota has lost all four MLS matches at Children’s Mercy Park by an aggregate score of 10-1.
Sporting KC dominated again Thursday, but the game-winner didn’t arrive until the 88th minute, when Erik Hurtado ran onto a nifty pass from Johnny Russell past the Loons defense and dribbled by Minnesota United goalkeeper Vito Mannone for the game’s only goal.
The Loons only had 39% of the possession, and their counterattack fell silent in the second half after generating a few dangerous chances in the first half.
“[The goal was] so late, it was a bit of a killer. I was pleased with some aspects of our game, but we’ve got to do better in the final third,” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. “We were prepared to let [Sporting KC] have the ball in certain areas. I thought we kept a good shape. … Standing on the sideline, I felt we were going to see it through. I’m a little disappointed.”
The disappointment will have to be short-lived. A date at Atlanta United awaits Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup final, easily the Loons’ biggest match to date in its short MLS tenure.
Opara won a U.S. Open Cup in his tenure at Kansas City, and he’s eager for another opportunity to bring home some hardware.
“Going to Atlanta, who seems like they host a final every week now, they’ve got a little bit of experience. We’re young in that perspective as a team,” Opara said. “We’re going to have to really come together in four days and put our best foot forward, because it won’t be easy. Just like tonight, but more difficult, with the form that Atlanta’s in.”
The Loons (12-9-6) failed to put more distance between them and the LA Galaxy in the race for second in the Western Conference but remain one point clear.
• Mason Toye returned to the Loons lineup after a two-match suspension.
• Opara totaled 127 appearances, 13 goals and five assists in his six seasons for Sporting KC.