Historic match. Great venue. Solid crowd.
Yet a 4-2 loss to Club Leon on Saturday in the first soccer match played at Target Field left Minnesota United FC aching for a better finish.
Second-half goals scored six minutes apart by Minnesota’s Christian Ramirez and J.C. Banks tied the match 2-2. But Juan Cuevas scored twice and Club Leon of Mexico’s Liga MX won the international exhibition or “friendly” match.
With a nod to an announced crowd of 18,505, Minnesota coach Carl Craig called the experience “outstanding. Way better than I thought it might have been. For those who haven’t been to watch a game before, it’s an insight into how good it can be. With respect to Leon, imagine what it would be like if we’re winning.”
The Loons trailed almost from the start. German Cano scored in the 10th minute. Things got tougher after a Minnesota own goal in the 47th minute gave Club Leon a 2-0 lead.
“We made errors, and good teams punish errors,” Craig said. “We’ve got to cut out the silly stuff.”
With the fall season beginning July 2 at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine against Carolina, Ramirez was glad to see his team respond. “To be able to come back from two-nil down, we showed some fight,” he said.
But the loss left Minnesota without a signature moment since a 1-0 victory against New York on April 23 — something not lost on defender Kevin Venegas.
“As a professional soccer player in America, playing in environments like this is what we really look forward to,” Venegas said. “But I treated it like every other game. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”
When former United FC star midfielder Miguel Ibarra was transferred to Club Leon, exhibition matches were part of the agreement. Ibarra played the entire first half Saturday. A year ago, the teams played to a 1-1 draw in Blaine with Ibarra playing one half with each team.
He said he was impressed by what he saw Saturday.
“Seeing the whole environment was amazing,” Ibarra said. “It’s going to bring players over here. And their team is strong. They showed some good moments.”
Lengthwise, Saturday’s temporary pitch stretched from the right field foul line to the left field wall. The sidelines ran just past the pitcher’s mound and near the right-center field warning track.
The permanent outfield grass was deep green in color. The lighter-green grass laid over the infield dirt provided a two-tone look.