NASL's Minnesota United FC concluded the preseason stretch of games with a commanding 6-0 win over the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) on Saturday, April 5, at the Shattuck Dome in Faribault, Minn.
A healthy crowd of fans made the hour drive from the Twin Cities to watch United take on the Mavericks, who put on a spirited early performance before being overwhelmed late by fresh Minnesota substitutions.
The match kicked off a little before 5:30, with United in grey, holding possession against UNO in white. Early play was even, with neither team finding much in the way of an opening. As the match settled, it was United who made the initial attacking forays, playing Omar Daley down the right wing to cross or finding Christian Ramirez through the center. The game's first golden chance came as the ball was played to Ramirez at the top of the box with a foot of space, but the young striker mis-hit his shot high and wide.
United almost got on the scoresheet by stealth, as right back Kevin Venegas cut inside off the wing and instead of playing a through ball centrally, powered a dipping shot for the near corner. The UNO goalkeeper was caught flat footed, but recovered in time to palm the ball around the post.
Minnesota continued to apply the pressure, but couldn't convert a number of golden opportunities. Ramirez won a header just a yard shy of goal, but played it backwards to the penalty spot instead of turning it goal-wards. Defensive midfielder Greg Jordan found the ball fall right at his feet, but he blasted his shot high.
It would all be forgotten midway through the first half, as a lofted ball to the top of the box was delicately nodded back by Ramirez straight into the path of midfielder Jamie Watson, who had cut in from the left. Watson took his chance superbly, striking a powerful shot that plunged into the right corner of the net and put United up 1-0.
UNO responded to the goal by attempting to put the pressure back on United, and had their first real chance after a defensive giveaway on the left. The UNO offense was able to switch the point of attack, playing the ball to a winger who was free near the touchline on the right side. Matt VanOekel had the narrow angle well covered however, and deflected the shot over the goal and out. Additional chances for United followed, but nothing was converted and the score remained 1-0 into the half.
Minutes after the second 45' got under way, United doubled the lead, with Christian Ramirez getting on the back end of a cross and tapping the ball into the net. UNO was unable to find a response and United's preseason conditioning began to show some benefits, as passing combinations flowed through the attack. A lovely backheel from Ramirez played central defended Cristiano Dias in on goal, but his shot was knocked out for a corner.
Somewhere between 50 and 60 minutes, Minnesota made a wholesale substitution, while UNO had only made a couple of subs earlier in the half. The difference in pace from the fresh substitutions was instantly clear, although that in no way does discredit to the work of the new entrants. Simone Bracalello demonstrated both speed and technical skill on the wing, while Miguel Ibarra ghosted effortlessly through the UNO defense.
The new subs opened the floodgates. Forward Mackenzie Pridham appeared to have notched a third after a class back heel from Ibarra, but was called offside. A minute later, Bracalello flicked a bouncing ball with the side of his foot to defender Greg Jordan, who perfectly weighted a pass to Miguel Ibarra on the left side of the box. Ibarra smashed a shot from the narrow angle that the UNO keeper could only parry down into the ground. Pridham was first to the header, and dinked it over everyone into the net.
Before the excitement had time to subside, Miguel Ibarra received a low cross at the top of the box in full sprint, corralled the ball, and slalomed through two defenders to open the whole goal mouth. He placed his shot into the left corner to give the goalkeeper no chance at preventing 4-0.
Next, defender Brian Kallman would get in on the act, flying in from the right wing and cannoning a shot off the far post. The shot was so strong that Ibarra, Pridham, and others who were rushing in had no chance to react before the ball had flown back past them and out of danger.
United was not done, with a pinpoint placed ball airdropped into Miguel Ibarra, who shrugged off a last ditch tackle attempt and once again found the left corner once again for his second and the game's fifth.
The last strike of the game came courtesy of Nate Polak, who was the beneficiary of a Simone Bracalello cross which eluded the touch of Ibarra, his defender, and the diving goalkeeper. Polak was placed at the penalty spot and surely couldn't believe his good fortune as he side footed the ball into the open net.
Before the final whistle, UNO had a final chance to get on the board, with a breakaway on keeper Mitch Hildebrandt and all offside appeals ignored. Hildebrandt surely surprised the UNO attacker by stripping the ball with his feet. It fell to a second UNO striker, but Hildebrant dove to punch the ball clear of his feet to avert a late consolation.
The final whistle blew, and United emerged with a good confidence boosting win in advance of the season opener, April 12th, away at the San Antonio Scorpions.
United will play a further away game, April 19th in Ottawa, before returning home to play their home opener, April 26th, at National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine.