If variety is the spice of life, the resumption of Minnesota United’s regular-season schedule had been as bland as tofu.
With a steady diet of regional Western Conference opponents, it can fill you up like baloney on white bread, but it can get stale quick.
Enter Columbus Crew — the Loons’ first regular-season game against an Eastern Conference opponent in 2020 — and the club with the best record in MLS was far too spicy for Minnesota in a 2-1 win Wednesday, Sept. 23, at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus.
Robin Lod’s goal in the 88th minute kept Columbus from setting MLS record with a six consecutive home shutouts to start a season. With the Loon’s late goal, the Crew have outscored foes 14-1 in that stretch dating to March.
In the last seconds, Emanuel Reynoso made a long run and drew a foul for a set-piece in a dangerous area. Reynoso’s service found Jose Aja, who headed it on to Michael Boxall for an apparent equalizer goal, but Aja was deemed office by inches.
Minnesota did get the better of Columbus in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 in July. The Crew were white-hot then, and the darlings going into the knockout round, but the Loons were able to nip them 5-3 in penalty kicks.
“Our guys remember that, for sure,” Columbus coach Caleb Porter said before the game.
On Wednesday, the Loons trailed 1-0 after they allotted Pedro Santos a ton of space in front of their back line, and he picked a pass that found a lunging Lucas Zelarayan for a header goal in the 31st minute.
With that opener, Minnesota fell to 1-6-1 when conceding the first goal.
In first-half stoppage time, Chase Gasper gave up a penalty kick after he got tangled with Luis Diaz in the 18-yard box, but Gasper was bailed out when Zelarayan skied his PK over the cross bar and waiting goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair.
Instead of a daunting 2-0 deficit, Minnesota only trailed by one, but were still 1-5-1 when allowing the first goal this season.
Zelarayan, a newer Crew star making his first start after a knee injury rehab, had a second goal clang off the post in the 65th minute.
But Santos made it 2-0 with an stunning tight-angle goal thatSt. Clair got a hand on but it had to much pace to not find the back of the net in the 70th minute.
The Loons started new forward Kei Kamara four days after they traded for the fifth-leading scorer in league history. He had Minnesota’s best chance on a header but it was saved in the 27th minute.
The battle of the East’s best and one of the West’s bests was diminished without Minnesota’s Jan Gregus (red-card suspension) and Columbus’ Darlington Nagbe (knee injury).
Loons center back Jose Aja will be suspended for Sunday’s home game against Real Salt Lake due to yellow-card accumulation. He was booked for grabbing Gyasi Zardes in the 50th minute Wednesday. Bakaye Dibassy, who missed Wednesday’s game with an undisclosed injury, should be available for RSL, Adrian Heath said Tuesday.