CITY vs Minnesota United Recap
By Cole Sutton
Despite playing three games in eight days and dealing with possibly the worst weather conditions we've seen this season, City put on an absolutely brilliant display in the second half Saturday completing an incredible 2-1 comeback inching the "Boys in Red" ever so closer to home field advantage in the MLS Cup playoffs.
A packed schedule including a massive mid-week clash against reigning champion LAFC ending with points being shared meant we'd likely see some squad rotation for the second of two matchups against Minnesota United who are fighting for their playoff life.
With loads of young talent and former City 2 standouts like Jon Bell, Josh Yaro, Celio and others getting a chance to prove themselves with a massive away start, the game was too close to call in the first half. Plenty of chances came for MNUFC with loads of pressure up the middle for the young CB pairing of Bell and Yaro to deal with. Despite the mix of "bend don't break" defensive luck and the stellar play by MLS All-Star GK Roman Burki, the two clubs went into the break still deadlocked at 0-0.
That would change though only three minutes into the second 45 with Burki getting issued a questionable yellow card, giving up a penalty in the 48th minute. At first glance the call seemed a bit overreactive, but Burki did wrap his arms around the MNUFC attacker and momentarily hold him from the ball. The penalty decision felt like countless others we've seen this year that were too close to call, and we certainly know how awful our luck has been with VAR in our inaugural season.
Minnesota United Striker Teemu Pukki stepped up to the spot and buried it into the lower left hand corner, scoring his fourth goal in the last five games. It momentarily looked like it could be saved as Burki guessed correctly but was just a bit late getting a hand on the shot. The Finland product got the home team ahead 1-0 directly in front of the Wonderwall that seemed to be a little quieter on Saturday due to the poor weather conditions.
We can see a clear turning point in this matchup and it wasn't the borderline PK that put the Loons ahead, it was ten minutes later in the 58th minute when Bradley Carnell made his first changes of the evening. The South African manager brought on two of his best outfield players Edu Lowen and Joao Klauss, followed by the incredible youngster AZ Jackson shortly after.
As soon as the trio of subs made their way onto the pitch getting a feel for the game instead of staying dry on the bench, the impact was clear. Lowen and Njabulo Blom locked down the central midfield with the perfect balance of attacking support/playmaking from Edu and the defensive work rate from Blom that earned him the nickname "Stopper." AZ was able to bring fresh legs and plenty of speed out wide which was crucial in spreading out the MNUFC backline, and we all know how special of a player "Santa Klauss" can be even in limited minutes.
The first of two incredible St. Louis City goals came from the Brazilian striker who had only came onto the pitch shortly beforehand. When the ball is played out wide to the right for wing-back Jake Nerwinski from Lowen, Klauss is at least 25 yards out from the technical area. He spins off his marker and instantly makes a beeline towards MNUFC GK Dayne St. Clair. The run earned him a beautiful chance at Nerwinski's header and the former Bundesliga product made the most of it. A perfectly weighted header floated past St. Clair's outstretched gloves found it's way into the back of the net for a City equalizer.
With more of the regular starters in the game making their presence felt, even in person at Allainz Field you could feel that City wasn't done quite yet.
The biggest and most memorable moment of the night though came in the 73rd minute and this time the other two subs were involved. A slip inside from AZ on the wing found Blom with the ball at his feet right at the 18-yard-box. The South African quickly cut the ball over to his right and curled an incredible shot past the MNUFC keeper.
The defensive midfielder's first professional goal that he described as a "miracle" couldn't have come at a better time. City had their first lead of the night 2-1 with less than 20 minutes to go in the contest.
Carnell made a couple of defensive changes after the Blom golazo, bringing on Anthony Markanich and Akil Watts in the remaining stages of the second half. It was smooth sailing for City as momentum was on their side and their tactics had taken a more defensive approach to close out the night.
A final scare came in the dying embers of extra time as a ball played into the middle of the City box in the 94th minute was headed on goal before taking a deflection off an STL defender and going out of play. The final whistle was blown shortly after, securing a crucial road win for the "Ravioli Boyz."
Returning home with three points is crucial, and now the boys will have plenty of time to rest up with no midweek match scheduled and bitter rival Sporting KC coming to town for the rubber match in the season series on September 30th.
After an incredible 4-0 clean sheet in the first matchup against the team from Kansas back in late may and a frustrating 2-1 loss at Children's Mercy Park in September, a win against Sporting would all but lock up a Western Conference title for City in their first ever season. With an eight point advantage on LAFC and Seattle and three regular season games remaining, it is looking more and more like reality.