Minnesota United FC's 3-1 victory Saturday meant nothing toward the spring season championship race but everything to a team desperate to end a three-match losing skid against league opponents.
Defeating expansion club Miami FC at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine before an announced crowd of 9,102 fans brought relief.
Minnesota coach Carl Craig said his players never quit as the losses mounted.
But he enjoyed replacing a moral victory with the real thing.
"If we lose a fourth one in a row, there's a major problem," Craig said. "We can't afford to drop points anywhere, particularly at home."
Shut out in its past two North American Soccer League matches, Minnesota went ahead 1-0 one minute into the second half. Leading scorer Christian Ramirez tallied his first goal in five league matches. Ben Speas curled a pass toward Ramirez, who leaped and headed the ball into the goal.
"To get the early goal is wonderful," Craig said. "And a lovely goal at that."
A loss at Rayo OKC last week knocked the Loons out of contention for the spring season title and automatic playoff bid. But the team sought a victory to restore confidence.
"The last three games have definitely not been what we want," said Speas, who made his first start in a league match since May 14, when he suffered an ankle sprain late against Jacksonville. "When you go through those patches it's important that you get yourself out of it."
Minnesota (5-4-1) went ahead 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Kevin Venegas crossed a ball and Stefano Pinho deflected it home. Replay showed the ball bounced off Pinho's shoulder, but the goal stood. Officials on the field do not have replay access.
Miami FC (1-5-4) cut the lead to 2-1 in the 66th minute on Jaime Chavez's goal.
Ibson added a stoppage time goal off a Ramirez assist to complete the scoring. Miami FC had shut out its past three league opponents.
"It means a lot to get back on track," said Ramirez, who came off the bench last week but got the start Saturday. "We grinded out a win, and that's what we needed."
Saturday marked the spring season finale, but the Loons remain busy with two high-profile June matches.
Major League Soccer club Sporting KC comes to Blaine for a U.S. Open Cup tournament match at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
On June 25, Club Leon is the opponent for the first soccer match held at Target Field. The friendly match pits Minnesota against former standout midfielder Miguel Ibarra.