Since joining MLS five years ago, Minnesota United’s games against Real Salt Lake haven’t sparked a rivalry.
The most memorable match was the Loons’ first league win in their fifth game in 2017, and since their only loss in the series coming later on in that expansion year, Minnesota had gone unbeaten in seven straight against RSL.
But there’s a brushfire now.
After RSL won 2-1 on Saturday — and spoiled Minnesota’s home opener in the process — Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa booted the ball into the Loons’ supporters sections at Allianz Field. He had been booed by The Wonderwall during the game, with fans believing he was wasting time to conserve the late lead.
Instead of hugs and handshakes, Ochoa’s antic caused Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson, a teammate of Ochoa’s on the U.S. Under-23 team this spring, jogged over and got in Ochoa’s face and pushed him. Then Chase Gasper did the same.
Manager Adrian Heath pointed and shouted in Ochoa’s direction, and Romain Metanire took a couple of opportunities to get in Ochoa’s face.
“He’s got some edge on him for a kid who’s not very good,” Heath said on The CW postgame show.
Michael Boxall, the Loons’ captain, also fired back at Ochoa in his postgame call with reporters.
“He acted like a bit of a clown within the 90 minutes before that and decides to top it off with that, which is pretty disrespectful,” Boxall said. “I don’t know if that’s his first time on a field or just doesn’t know how to behave. We wanted to let him know. Just a bit of a clown; you can tell him I said that.”
This is the kind of contentious conclusion that can have embers to be rekindled when the clubs meet in Utah on May 29. The Loons will need to improve their play to make it matter next month.
Across two games, the Loons has done little to show they can become the best team in the Western Conference this season. So far, the Loons, with a minus-5 goal differential, are in the exact opposite position, 13 spots away in the basement.
Failing to flip the script from the 4-0 loss to Seattle in the season opener, Minnesota has a hole to get out of if they want to better its Western Conference final appearance from a year ago.
After starting 2-0 in the last two playoff-bound campaigns, this team’s 0-2 record equals 2017 for the worst opening to a season in the Loons’ MLS history. Like that nightmare year, defensive breakdowns are at the top of the list of issues.
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag at the minute in my head,” Heath said in his postgame call. “I don’t think we played badly with the ball, but I don’t think we’ve been good in the most relevant areas of the field.”
On an attacking corner, Minnesota pushed players forward, but after they were thwarted initially and again on Romain Metanire’s attempt on a recycled ball, RSL broke free on the counter attack, and Gasper’s slide tackle wasn’t enough as Anderson Julio netted the opening goal in the 31st minute.
Ten minutes later, Gasper’s bad back-pass was intercepted by Rubio Rubin, and he laid off a pass to Julio for an easy inside-of-the-foot finish. Julio scored a brace in his MLS debut. It came too easy and was all too reminiscent of what happened in Seattle a week ago.
On Saturday, United opened the gates to its St. Paul stadium for the first time since the pandemic gripped the world and 552 days in total since the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs in October 2019.
United supporters groups held a nine-minute, 29-second period of silence to honor the lives lost to police brutality and systemic racism. After it finished, Metanire’s cross went to Robin Lod’s foot, but the shot hit the side netting. It would have been a euphoric moment after a somber statement to start the game.
Lod scored in the 86th minute to cut the RSL lead in half, the Loons’ first goal in 176 minutes this season. Rookie Justin McMaster provided the first assist of his MLS career, but it was too little too late for Minnesota.
Instead of enjoying themselves, the welcomed-back supporters left hot over Ochoa’s antics and bothered about the Loons’ poor start.