Kevin Venegas scored to clinch Minnesota United’s 3-1 victory Saturday night against Carolina, a goal that relieved pressure for both team and player.
Storming back after allowing an early goal, the Loons kept pace in the playoff hunt and delighted an announced crowd of 8,222 fans at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine.
Minnesota (6-2-4) moved into a tie for second in the combined standings with Ottawa and remained even with New York for second in the fall standings.
For Venegas, being involved in all three goals meant living up to the player he expects to be, the offensive-minded defender teammates have been missing of late.
“The last two or three games he’s been a little bit shy,” United forward Pablo Campos said. “When I say shy, I mean he’s not going forward and attacking. He was kind of holding back the way he plays. Tonight he showed the way he plays — aggressively.”
Venegas ignited a three-goal rally in the second half to overcome a goal by Carolina (3-7-3) that was scored less than five minutes into the match.
He flicked the ball toward a scrum in front of the RailHawks goal, where Daniel Scott inadvertently headed it past his goalkeeper for a 1-1 tie in the 72nd minute.
Minnesota went ahead five minutes later. Venegas played a ball toward Christian Ramirez, who leapt and headed it back to a charging Campos. With a powerful right-footed shot, Campos put United ahead 2-1.
Venegas wasn’t finished. He worked his way through four RailHawks and scored, unassisted, what he called the “safety goal” in the 81st minute.
“He was the one who was driving, giving the energy and getting forward,” said United coach Manny Lagos, who was ejected for stepping on the field and watched the comeback via computer livestream. “To be rewarded with a goal at the end was well deserved.”
With the victory, Minnesota pushed its unbeaten streak to six matches. The team also padded its NASL scoring record with at least one goal in 20 consecutive matches. Those are the sort of standards Venegas craves for his own game.
“I really hold high expectations for myself to be performing consistently,” Venegas said. “That was a big issue I wanted to address this year.”
Still stinging from a tie at Edmonton last week, Minnesota came out sluggish in the first half. Carolina, meanwhile, played with energy that produced a Futty Danso header goal off a Tiyi Shipalane corner kick.
Minnesota goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock responded with several outstanding saves. Lagos praised him as “the hero of the first half.”