Loons net a late goal for 1-0 road win
Hlongwane stays hot as MNUFC tops Portland
Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath continues to put faith in struggling striker Luis Amarilla; it is not paying off.
With Amarilla held scoreless in nearly 70 minutes Saturday, the Paraguayan has not scored an open-play goal in more than 650 minutes this season.
But Loons rising star Bongi Hlongwane remained hot and bailed out his struggling teammate with a last-second goal to give MNUFC a 1-0 win over Portland Timbers at Providence Park.
Hlongwane’s 94th-minute goal Saturday pairs with his goal Wednesday, which was the difference in a 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo. The 22-year-old leads the team with four MLS goals and two more tallies in U.S. Open Cup play.
In celebration, Hlongwane ripped off his jersey and sprinted toward the Loons dugout; he then did Robin Lod’s celebration, mimicking the firing of an arrow a la Robin Hood. It was a nice gesture toward Lod, who was lost to a torn meniscus on Wednesday.
“Robin is one of our good players in the team, so I felt so bad after I heard that he got an injury,” Hlongwane said. “… That was for him.”
MNUFC defense was stout throughout and were able to leapfrog the Timbers (4-6-4, 16 points). After going winless in six matches, the Loons (5-5-3, 18 points) have won two straight.
Heath said Amarilla versus Houston and Kansas City in the last week might have been his best performances of the season. He nearly scored against Houston on Wednesday, but Dynamo goalkeeper Steve Clark denied Amarilla’s header from the back post.
“He’s starting to get in there,” Heath told reporters Friday. “Luis needs it from me to show that confidence in him and I don’t think we are at that (moving-on) stage yet. … I want to see if he can work himself through this.”
Amarilla had two chances, with the ball going through his legs in the opening minutes and a close-range shot denied by Ivacic later in the first half. Amarilla was flagged for offside in the second half and his non-penalty kick goal drought stretches all season.
The Loons had four shots in goal in the first half, with Joseph Rosales’ curling shot from outside the box forcing Alijaz Ivacic to make an acrobatic save. Rosales was in disbelief the Loons best chance in the opening 45 minutes didn’t go in.
The Loons were forced into only one change to the starting XI, with Lod sidelined for at least weeks and likely months after tearing his meniscus Wednesday.
Rosales started on the left wing, with Franco Fragapane as the No. 10, Hlongwane on the right wing and Amarilla keeping his spot.
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