FC Dallas set up a Western Conference Semi-final in Austin after coming through a penalty shootout with Minnesota United late on Monday night.
Coach Nico Estevez had the full player complement to choose from as Alan Velasco made his return to the starting lineup. The only other change came as Facundo Quignon was given the task of keeping Emanuel Reynoso quiet, over Edwin Cerrillo.
FC Dallas’ Kryptonite at times has been Minnesota’s tendency to clog the midfield. Chances proved hard to come by as the Loons sat off attacks in the name of self-preservation.
Jesus Ferreira flashed a header over the bar 15 minutes in only to see the linesman’s flag strike the first shot of the game off the stats sheet. Los Toros first effort on target was more an accident as a corner rebounded off Paul Arriola’s thigh into the hands of Dayne St. Clair in the 33rd.
The MLS Cup Playoffs have seen a few comments aimed at refereeing thus far, and Ted Unkel gave cause for a few complaints around Toyota Stadium. The veteran official let a few challenges go unpunished for both sides, and called a few borderline fouls. A combination that frustrates fans but was at least consistent between the two teams.
“This was my first playoff game, I feel it’s more physical or more contact is allowed,” said Facundo Quignon of the physicality. “For me and the way that I played in Argentina it’s more normal. I’m used to play like that, so for me, I like the fight.”
The highlight of the half really came from Sebastian Lletget, who cut out a cross-field ball in the midfield with a bicycle kick. FCD did draw St. Clair off his line from a free kick in the final minute of the half, but couldn’t find a way through the crowded box.
Coach Nico was forced into a halftime sub as Paxton Pomykal limped off the field at the break after a clash with Reynoso seemed to aggravate his hamstring. Brandon Servania and Tsiki Ntsabeleng both warmed up in their jerseys, but the former ultimately came on as the teams emerged for the second period.
The first real chance of any substance came as Minnesota took a 53rd-minute lead through Reynoso.
Jose Martinez seemed to have made a tackle on Bongokuhle Hlongwane at the top of the Dallas box, to stop a MNUFC breakaway after a neat long ball by Wil Trapp. Martinez somehow got the wrong side of the challenge and watched the South African get to his feet and walk away with the ball, before laying it off for Reynoso to drive home.
Facundo Quignon seems to only score big goals, and this one in the 64th minute topped his winner against Houston.
Paul Arriola forced a corner off a bicycle kick (That was three for anyone counting, including Martinez’s missed attempt). Matt Hedges flicked on the delivery at the front post with Martinez finding the net from six yards.
Reynoso had the ball in the net immediately from the kick-off as Minnesota caught Dallas sleeping, but luckily Ema Twumasi‘s defensive improvements came to the forefront with a last-second step to catch Reynoso and two teammates offside before the Argentine dinked a ball over the dive of Maarten Paes.
Arriola and Franco Fragapane exchanged yellow cards. The latter presented Alan Velasco with a dead ball opportunity from 30 yards that forced St. Clair into an excellent save.
Velasco had been phenomenal defensively but a rare slip-up on the edge of the Dallas box left Paes scrambling to cover up a Robin Lod effort.
Estevez brought in Edwin Cerrillo in the 85th minute, as Minnesota’s increasing pace of attack started to bypass Quignon. Nanu followed as the game moved into extra time, replacing Twumasi.
“We had a lot to think about, they were very disciplined,” said Sebastian Lletget. “There was a lot of space in between lines that I think we’re a little bit more used to, so we’re used to kind of killing teams in between lines and they did a really good job of narrowing all the space so we didn’t really have that. Then we have to be aware of what they have right now.
“Reynoso is a key player for them. So in transition we were, especially in the beginning, you don’t want to take risks and we built into the game. I thought we should have put it away before but hey man, this is the crazy stuff that happens in playoffs.”
Both keepers were kept busy, each picking the ball off the foot of an advancing player, and rushing to tip crosses that looked to be edging inside the back post.
The toll on the players was evident as Arriola kicked the ball away holding his groin close to the break. The USMNT winger would exit for Franco Jara, while Joshue Quinonez would replace Marco Farfan.
Dallas had the ball held on the line in the 110th minute after play broke to Jesus Ferreira following a low cross by Nanu. America’s striker whiffed but was able to force the ball to Lletget whose backheel attempt was held firmly by St. Clair.
As thoughts turned to potential penalty takers in the second period of extra time, Dallas’ number one option seemed to become a doubt as Ferreira went down holding his knee. With no substitutes left, Ferreira hobbled around as time expired.
The visitors’ Emanuel Reynoso stepped up first in the shootout sending Paes the wrong way. Jara – scorer of Dallas’ only penalty in the regular season – followed up with a Panenka that St. Clair was able to get a foot to but only to send it into the opposite corner.
“We were preparing during the week,” said Nico Estevez of the shootout. “We did this three times during the week, the same situation that we have here. We also had psychologists coming to work with the group as someone that is working with us. Yes to talk about it. Some techniques to have your mind positive and in and I’m not going to tell you the techniques.”
Maarten Paes was proud of his record against PKs in the regular season, and his low save against Trapp only backed that up before Lletget gave Dallas the 2-1 lead after two rounds. The Dutchman got the direction right again against Kervin Arriaga, but the perfectly placed kick found the corner. Matt Hedges carried the lead over with a no-run-up penalty slotted low.
Late-sub Alan Benitez smashed Minnesota’s fourth effort before Jesus Ferreira stepped up. Through the pain, he sent St. Clair the wrong way to a huge cheer around Toyota Stadium.
Into the fifth round, Mender Garcia kept Minnesota alive before an Alan Velasco Panenka started off a late-night fireworks display and gave Dallas a much sought-after game down in Austin on Sunday at 7pm.