The Fourth Round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup came to a thrilling conclusion on Thursday afternoon in Saint Paul, where Minnesota United FC defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in a match that took two days to complete.
The game was tied 1-1 from two early goals on Wednesday night when in the 18th minute (17:30 to be exact) the match had to be halted due to lightning. The two teams met the following day for a 1 p.m. local time kickoff and the Loons drew a red card and scored a goal, making the supporters’ afternoon trip back to Allianz worthwhile while marking their fourth straight home win in Open Cup play, and extending Colorado’s road losing streak in the competition to seven.
As storm clouds raced in over the Twin Cities, the action on the pitch got off to a quick start. Minnesota took a few minutes to settle into a rare 3-4-3 formation while Colorado picked through the midfield with a pressing 3-4-1-2. Diego Rubio and Bryan Acosta connected early to keep the Loons’ defense on their toes. But midfield turnovers were the story of the opening minutes. Adrien Hunou, Minnesota’s DP striker-turned-winger, collected a ball at midfield and sent a perfectly weighted pass downfield to Franco Fragapane, sprinting down the left side of the box. Fragapane poked a cross in front of goal to Abu Danladi who one-timed it past Colorado keeper Clint Irwin to put the Loons up 1-0 in the 8th minute.
The foot races continued with Minnesota carrying much of the momentum in terms of threats on goal, but the Rapids’ persistence paid off when they were awarded a freekick in the 15th minute. Minnesota’s wall failed to clear Rubio’s shot and the second ball lured Tyler Miller off his line. Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman were caught up in the traffic when the ball fell to Nicolas Mezquida at the far post. He easily tapped it around Miller for the equalizer. The players had hardly settled in to the restart of play when the whistle was blown for the weather delay in the 18th minute.
It appeared the match might resume after a half hour’s wait, but the lull in lightning that brought players and officials back onto the pitch turned out to be a fluke. Lightning persisted and pouring rain turned Allianz Field into a pond, making the surface unplayable by the 11 p.m. cutoff, regardless of lightning status. Play did not resume until 16 hours later.
The same lineups returned to a drained pitch on a clear but humid afternoon to pick up where they left off, tied 1-1 with 17:30 on the clock on Allianz’s analog clock. The remainder of the first half was much like the night before, though both teams came out looking a little more organized after having a night to sleep on the early hiccups.
Colorado succeeded in putting more shots in dangerous areas, with Michael Barrios forcing Miller into a save in the 23rd minute (Mezquida with the would-be assist). In the 33rd, the post spared Miller another scare, deflecting a point-blank header from Anthony Markanich away from goal. Fragapane and Danladi each added misses at Colorado’s end. Neither side could finish an opportunity before the half and, once again, they went to the locker rooms tied 1-1.
Colorado coach Robin Fraser made two changes to start the half, replacing Rubio with Mark-Anthony Kaye and Acosta with former Loon Collen Warner. Minnesota came out on the front foot (again) and added two misses (again) before the day’s drama really began.
Loons centerback Brent Kallman drew the first yellow of the match in the 55th for a professional foul and from that point, turnovers and counters were replaced by fouls and free kicks, and veterans and first-teamers joined both squads.
Emanuel Reynoso, who replaced Hunou in the 65th minute, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who replaced Oniel Fisher in the 68th marked a sea change. As the speed of the match picked up, so did the fouls – as fans of the Minnesota-Colorado matchup are accustomed. A second yellow for Kallman in the 83rd minute put the Loons down a man. Mezquida’s freekick in the 85th minute toward an empty Wonderwall could have sucked all life out of the stadium, but he missed.
At the other end, Reynoso and Kervin Arriaga chipped away at a staunch defense. Arriaga sent a ball to Reynoso who dribbled and juked three defenders before sending a shot past a fourth and beyond Irwin to break the deadlock in the 87th minute.
The DP’s beautiful footwork continued the lore of the shorthanded win (preferable to the man advantage loss) and the goal was celebrated as such with fans who had followed the action to that goal after the half. Auston Trusty led Colorado’s efforts to force extra time but five minutes of added time weren’t enough for the Rapids to turn their luck and it ended 2-1 in favor of the Loons.
A changed formation worked in Adrian Heath’s favor and suggests a more flexible style moving into the next round.
“The decision your fullbacks have to make, of when to leave the back four to go out to their wingback is crucial,” said Heath. “We felt it was nearly man for man and it mirrored up with us and that helped us.”
He added the three-man backline may be used again.
A day late and a goal short, Fraser’s squad returns to Colorado to focus on a return to league play on Saturday. His frustration with MLS and USSF was clear following the rescheduled match when he told media.
“The ideal thing for us is to play on a different day,” said Fraser. “U.S. Soccer not really willing to work with us, don’t really understand that. I don’t want to make excuses and complain, but the two entities not really working together to help us — the two entities being U.S. Soccer and MLS — and here we ended up having to play this game today and then turn around and play in two days in the afternoon. My concern is about player safety, but that’s only my concern. Apparently not everybody else shares that concern.”
Minnesota coach Adrian Heath understood the sentiment.
“I would’ve been pissed had I been them last night and they have every right to be,” Heath said. “It’s not ideal for them and I feel for them, but it is what it is and we would have done the same had we been in their spot.”
And isn’t that the magic of the US Open Cup?