Minnesota United finally returned Friday to an Allianz Field where it lost just once in the regular season a year ago and left a 2-1 loser to traveling Sporting Kansas City in a place that didn’t feel quite like home.
The Loons went 10-1-6 there last season but Friday played their first home game since October and lost for the first time in six games that count toward the season’s standings. They did so in such usually friendly confines that lacked the sound, song and smoke with no supporters allowed during this coronavirus pandemic.
This time, they couldn’t overcome two opportunistic Sporting Kansas City goals, including Loons defender Michael Boxall’s point-blank own goal in the 55th minute that stood as the winner.
Together, the two goals spoiled the Minnesota debut of goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, the team’s former backup turned starter after Tyler Miller had season-ending hip surgery on Wednesday.
Loons defender Chase Gasper termed the loss “definitely disappointing” and called playing in a mostly empty Allianz Field “definitely a new experience.”
“We got a taste of it down in Orlando,” he said, referring to the recently completed MLS is Back Tournament. “But to come back to our home, Allianz, and not have the fans here, it’s not what we’re used to. We definitely miss the fans. We really felt it tonight. You hear them cheering and screaming all game, especially in the dying minutes of the game. You need that extra boost.
“We definitely missed that tonight. But that’s no excuse for how we played. I mean, it’s reality. We have to deal with it like everybody else.”
Friday’s game restarted the regular season after a five-month delay for these two teams that entered as the Western Conference’s best through the first five games.
All of it, of course, without fans.
That didn’t stop Allianz Field’s announcer from starting many of his messages with “Fans, …”
The stadium’s sound system piped in chanting — including a supporters’ own version of “The Ants Go Marching” — from time to time while FSN’s broadcast team of Cal Williams and Kyndra de St. Aubin called the game in person but in a booth with plastic sheeting that separated them while they worked.
MLS now requires teams in most situations to travel to and from a game on the same day to limit the chance of contracting the virus now that teams are no longer playing under the “bubble” they did in Orlando.
Sporting Kansas City arrived in Minnesota by chartered flight midday Friday and flew home right after the game.
Sporting did so after the Loons allowed the two goals, both of which coach Adrian Heath termed “poor” without blaming the keeper.
Loons coach Adrian Heath lamented his team’s “passive” start during the game’s opening 25 minutes. It allowed a goal in the 12th minute, got one back when Ethan Finlay’s cross into the box deflected off a Kansas City player and surprised goalkeeper Tim Melia with its change of direction in the 32nd minute.
But one own goal apparently deserves another, and the game-winner came in that 55th minute, when veteran midfielder Kevin Molino’s midfield pass was intercepted in what Heath called a “cheap turnover.” Sporting Kansas City went half the field with the ball, scoring when Boxall’s diving attempt to clear the ball near the goal line knocked it into the net instead.
Boxall blamed himself for what he called a “tap-in” goal.
As they did at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, players from both teams knelt, some with their head bowed or fist raised for several moments before the game. One lowel-level section of seats covered by tarp remembered George Floyd with “8:46” imprinted on it.
The two teams played each other to start that Orlando tournament last month. The Loons won 2-1 on two goals in second-half stoppage time that Heath called a victory “pinched” away from Sporting Kansas City.
SKC got one back this time.
“Overall, so disappointed with it being our home opener, back in this beautiful stadium,” Boxall said in a FSN postgame interview.