With Minnesota United up by just one goal, the San Jose Earthquakes were pushing for the equalizer. They pressured the Loons throughout the second half, generating opportunities while forcing goalkeeper Vito Mannone left and right.
But the tying goal never came. Mannone finished with seven saves as San Jose failed to score in the second half.
In a match coach Adrian Heath dubbed the most important of the season thus far, the Loons delivered in a 3-1 victory against the Earthquakes.
“It was a massive game for us,” Mannone said. “I think we played real well against Cincinnati, and tonight was a real test. We beat them. We showed again some character, some great composure. We showed that we’re a very good team.”
United picked up three points against what was arguably the hottest team in the league. San Jose came in losers in just one of its past 11 matches and hadn’t lost an MLS match since May 11. None of that mattered Wednesday.
The Earthquakes’ unique man-to-man style didn’t pan out either, as the Loons won another game at Allianz Field.
“I actually think our game plan matched up really well against them,” Heath said.
The Loons were led by Darwin Quintero, Michael Boxall and Kevin Molino, all of whom scored a goal in the victory. Molino netted the exclamation point in stoppage time to extinguish any chance of a San Jose comeback.
Heading into halftime tied 1-1 after what they considered a questionable San Jose goal, the Loons struck quickly after the break.
A Boxall pass deflected off an Earthquakes defender, bouncing perfectly in front of the defender with just goalkeeper Daniel Vega in the way.
Boxall went on to score his first MLS goal of the season, giving the Loons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. From there, United looked to maintain the advantage while San Jose harassed the Loons defenders.
Mannone then picked up multiple saves as he didn’t allow a single ball by him.
“We needed it,” Heath said of Mannone. “I thought he played well, but that’s what you expect from your goalkeepers, to save the ones he should save. It was a couple of really good saves.”
Quintero staked the Loons with an early lead, scoring in the fifth minute after receiving an Ethan Finlay cross. His shot bounced past Vega for Quintero’s first MLS goal since April 19.
United plays Montreal on the road at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for its next match.
“We needed to win these two games at home to start off the second half of the year,” Ike Opara said. “I look at every game as the most important, so the next one’s the most important.”
The match featured chippiness from both sides, at one point causing a delay before a corner kick because of some bickering. But that’s to be expected, according to Opara. With teams like the Loons pushing for the playoffs, the stakes are expected to ramp up.
“As you get later in the year, it gets more and more intense,” Opara said. “Teams are fighting for position in the playoffs, fighting to be in the playoffs. Every month that passes the games get more and more intense. This is nothing that was surprising.”