Just seven days removed from Yankee Stadium SodGate, the mischief makers behind the MLS schedule sent NYCFC up north to play Minnesota FC as they opened their impressive new Allianz Stadium. After clearing snow out of the way earlier in the day, the teams played a sloppy, exciting 3-3 draw.
The stadium was story early on…
The stadium, sort of a miniature version of Bayern Munich’s larger stadium of the same name, is the culmination of United’s three-year expansion plan. It is also something of a stick in the eye to the NYCFC franchise that continues to play a distant second fiddle at Yankee Stadium, unable even to generate a decent stadium rumor for the team’s supporters to hang their hat on.
This Saturday #MNUFC opens @allianzfield. $250 million & 19,400 seats. The Beer Hall has 96 taps…and the stadium glows. The #Loons finally have their nest. That's 14 new soccer-specific stadia in @MLS since 2005. 🇺🇸⚽️ pic.twitter.com/RGazQFhF6O— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) April 11, 2019
And while NYC’s grounds crew spent last week replacing massive divots in the Yankee Stadium infield, their Minnesota counterparts earned praise for their work in clearing a spring snowstorm without causing serious damage the new team’s new pitch.
…then a wild game followed
That pitch saw plenty of early action with the sides combining for four goals in the games opening 20 minutes. The home team went to the locker room with a 3-2 lead on the strength of a Sean Johnson howler for the ages (1:50 in the below video).
Ozzie Alonso, brought in from Seattle to settle a Minnesota defensive side that became the first MLS team to allow 70 goals in consecutive seasons, had the honor on Saturday of becoming the first goal scorer in the history of Minnesota’s Allianz Stadium with a sweetly struck volley in the gam’s 13th minute.
With the St. Paul crowd rocking it was easy to forsee another disaster in the making for a New York side still searching for its first victory in 2019. Embattled NYCFC coach Dome Torrent had to be aware of City Football Group Football Administration Officer Brian Marwood sitting alongside NYCFC Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna in one of the new stadium’s suites.
Torrent sent his team out in a new three back set up, featuring 18 year-old midfielder James Sands at the center of that three back, flanked by Maxine Chanot and Tony Rocha, who had played less than an hour this season for NYC since being acquired from Orlando in the off-season.
With Ronald Matarrita failing to provide cover for Rocha, Minnesota exploited the left side of the New York defense throughout the opening half, leading Torrent to pull Rocha on the re-start while shifting to a back four.
The visitors were much better defensively after the substitution and the formation change. So, was it personnel or formation that was at fault? It should be noted that NYC’s right side was solid all afternoon with Maxine Chanot and Anton Tinnerholm working well together. Perhaps Ben Sweat could have done better than Rocha, particularly if Matarrita paid more heed to his defensive responsibilities.
NYC did show resiliency in bouncing back with goals from Valentín Castellanos in the 16th minute and a another from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi just two minutes later. Tajouri-Shradi assisted on Castellanos’ goal with Castellanos returning the favor on Tajouri-Shradi’s tally, although the latter was recorded as unassisted because T-S needed two attempts at his shot.
But winless teams are winless for a reason, and NYCFC could not make its lead last for more than two minutes, conceding a leveler to Angelo Rodríguez in the 20th minute. Like the Loons first goal, Rodriguez’ headed goal originated on the left side of the N.Y. defense with Ethan Finlay teeing up a wide-open Rodriguez to nod home from Johnson’s doorstep.
The home side might have taken the lead on the half hour mark if not for a great tackle from Matarrita but Minnesota did go in front two minutes later on a goal that Johnson will have a hard time living down.
Under departed coach Patrick Vieira, Johnson has made huge strides as a ball playing goalkeeper, to the point where Gregg Berhalter has recalled the New York keeper to the USMNT. But on Saturday afternoon, Johnson took a simple back pass from Ebenezer Ofori and turned it back toward and ultimately into his own goal for a head shaking howler.
As well as costing his team the lead Johnson’s miscue revived a reputation that the former Chicago Fire keeper had worked diligently to put behind him, that of a goalkeeper given to the occasional, inexplicable blunder.
The most costly of those miscues came in 2012 against El Salvador, when Johnson allowed a long range shot to bounce past him, costing the U.S. an Olympic berth. Johnson has fought that “unreliable” label ever since and seemed to have put it behind him.
To his immense credit Johnson has never shied from taking responsibility when things turn ugly and so he turned to twitter Saturday.
I owe all the boys one tonight for having my back in a big way! Everyone gave everything to get back in the game and go back to NYC with a point! #NYCFC— Sean Johnson (@SeanJohnGK) April 13, 2019
“The boys” did indeed have Johnson’s back against Minnesota, outplaying the hosts by a wide margin in the second half. Referee Alan Kelly and VAR combined to overturn an NYCFC goal by Castellanos, who tried for a “Bicep of God goal” only to be caught by the technology of the day.
Kelly also consulted VAR to overrule a Minnesota penalty claim, with Finlay correctly penalized for being offside prior to the infringement.
New York did get its equalizer, however, in the 64th minute on a deflected free kick from Tojouri-Shradi, who was credited with the goal despite a touch off of Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo.
New York would lose two goal man Tajouri-Shradi to a leg injury in the 74th minute before a disturbing incident that sent Minnesota’s Ike Opara and NYC’s Castellanos to the sideline after a violent clash of heads on a Loons corner kick.
Both players required attention on the pitch with Opara also bleeding. Castellanos attempted to return before New York’s medical staff wisely stepped in, ending what was by far the best performance of the forwards NYCFC career to date.