For the first time this season, Minnesota United’s offense and defense were in sync.
In fact, the 2-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium was probably the closest to a finished product the Loons have fielded all season.
Well, except for one aspect that midfielder Sam Cronin razzed rookie Abu Danladi about after the match.
“He said he’s disappointed in my celebration because we talked about it, and he’s like, ‘You score, you have to do a great celebration,’ and I was like, ‘Well, in the moment I didn’t know. I was too excited,’ ” Danladi said. “I don’t even remember what I did.”
What the No. 1 draft pick actually did after scoring in the 22nd minute was run over to wingman and assister Miguel Ibarra and catch him in his arms, a simple and generous way to commemorate his first professional goal in his first professional start.
Danladi helped United (3-5-2) to a victory over heavy favorite Kansas City (5-2-3) in front of an announced 17,709. Before the match, Kansas City, one of the top teams in the Western Conference, had allowed a league-best three goals this season. Its clean-sheet streak had lasted for more than two matches and 200 minutes.
United nearly doubled the fellow Midwestern team’s goal total in just one match. And the Loons did it on national television, no less.
With the two other nationally televised matches for United being the blowout 5-1 and 6-1 losses to start the season — “horror shows,” as United coach Adrian Heath called them — this was a good way to change the club’s image on a broader basis.
“This team, you have to take us seriously,” Heath said, “because if you don’t, we have too much talent not to hurt you.”
Kansas City might have fallen prey to that mistake. The team did not start its usual right back, Graham Zusi, a seasoned MLS veteran and U.S. national team member, or right-side center back Ike Opara, another player with a lot of league experience. Instead, Igor Juliao started at right back and Kevin Ellis at center back, making their 2017 debuts.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said both Zusi and Opara had nagging injuries. He wanted to rest the pair, as Kansas City had just come off playing three matches in nine days. Zusi came into the match for the second half, but the damage was already done.
In addition to Danladi’s goal, Ibarra tore up that weakened side again in the 39th minute, this time crossing to forward Christian Ramirez for a diving header score. The combination from Batman and Superman, as they are nicknamed, was reminiscent of the North American Soccer League days when the duo became stars.
“We talked about it last game. There were some balls I could have given to him. He said, ‘You already know me. I’m always on the second post,’ ” Ibarra said. “I got that ball, and I just saw Christian go to the second post, and I said, ‘I’m going to put it there, and he’s going to finish it.’ ”
With the second shutout of the season — after allowing 18 goals in the first four matches and after the offense stuttered to only three goals in the past four matches — United had the most “complete” 90 minutes in its 10th match of the season, according to its coach.
“It’s nice to see that we are improving,” Heath said.