Recently acquired United striker Ramon Abila celebrated his new club's first victory in its fifth try, his first MLS goal and a bittersweet recent anniversary all in Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Vancouver at Allianz Field.
A second-half substitute who played his fourth game with his new team, Abila's 72nd-minute goal was the only one the Loons needed to stop an 0-4 season start and get their first points earned this season.
"It's a huge relief for everybody concerned, most importantly the players," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "I know pressure starts to build on players, on the coaches, on the manager, even the supporters. You could feel the relief on the supporters at the end. I'm pleased for them all."
Signed in early April, Abila flicked on with his head teammate Robin Lod's precise crossing pass seven minutes after he entered the game and a day after Heath said he still wasn't sure how close to full fitness and health his new striker is.
After his header eluded Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, Abila lifted his jersey in joy to reveal underneath an image of his brother Gaston, who suffered from depression and committed suicide about this time last year.
It came on a night when Heath received the change he saw from a winless start by swapping goalkeepers. He inserted veteran Tyler Miller into the starting 11 for Dayne St. Clair, and several times Miller kept his team even or ahead with timely saves.
Afterward, Abila said in Spanish through an interpreter that all of his celebrations now will be for his brother, even though the gesture got him a yellow card.
He said he still doesn't know all the rules in his new league with his new team in terms of what he can or cannot do to celebrate. He said he didn't care about receiving the yellow card because Wednesday's celebration honored someone very special who gives him the strength to push forward.
Heath said Abila looked pain free for the first time since he was acquired from the same Boca Juniors team that brought star Emanuel Reynoso to Minnesota from Argentina last year.
"I feel for him a little bit; maybe we thrust him into it a little before he was ready," Heath said. "I think he'll be the first to say he's still weeks away from being fit and sharp as he would like. But we'll keep working with him."
Miller's play diving and stretching to save goals produced just the kind of change Heath sought.
"Sometimes it's not about form; it's about doing something different that gets a different response from the people in front of you," Heath said. "Sometimes the change of voice helps and maybe refocuses the guys in front of you."
Miller learned Monday that he would start Wednesday, so his father flew from New Jersey for the game. His mother will come for Saturday's game against FC Dallas on his road back from surgery on both hips last summer.
"It's always special to me when I have that opportunity to play in front of them," Miller said. "I got a little emotional with the end of the game and what I've been through. To have him in the stadium for that experience meant a lot to me."
The two teams hadn't played each other since summer 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic that first suspended and then remade and regionalized MLS' 2020 schedule.
Because of COVID regulations and restrictions, Vancouver currently is playing its home game in Real Salt Lake's stadium in Utah.