BLAINE (FOX 9) - The range of emotions in the final minutes of Minnesota United's match against FC Dallas Saturday night probably rivaled that of any amusement park rollercoaster ride in the country.
With the two teams locked in a scoreless tie in extra time during the second half, Jan Gregus fired a shot on net. The FC Dallas keeper made the save, but couldn't corral the rebound. Mason Toye, playing some of the best soccer in his young career for the Loons, was there for the finish and buried it. His fourth goal in four games gave the Loons a critical 1-0 lead in the closing minutes.
But the match was far from over. Moments later, an FC Dallas player fell in the penalty area at the feet of keeper Vito Mannone. After a review, the referee granted FC Dallas a penalty kick.
"Not happy about the penalty, I thought it was soft. Disagree with the referee, but that makes me angry to save it," Mannone said. "It's what I feel is injustice, whether it is or not, I feel it gives me an extra motivation to make the save and help the team."
The game was left in the hands of Mannone and Reto Ziegler, who entered the match with three goals on the season. Mannone waited as long as he could, and anticipated Ziegler's move. Call it luck, call it the right guess, call it whatever you want. Ziegler, a left-footed shot, went low and to his left. Mannone was ready, dove and knocked it away.
The ball was eventually cleared, and Minnesota United claimed a 1-0 victory. It was a huge win for the Loons, who now sit fourth in the West and are just one point out of third. They're also only two points clear of fifth in a bunched conference.
"Everyone was defending for their lives. I made two or three saves, difficult ones. The ball was moving a lot. Before that, I had to be on my toes for the 90 minutes," Mannone said. "Then we scored, the adrenaline goes up, we're all pumped up and then the penalty happens. I said to the ref ‘You want to ruin this game, I can't believe it.' I was ready, I was ready to be important for the team because I thought we were doing excellent."
Adrian Heath admitted at the team's training on Tuesday his squad was tired. The Loons were facing the end of a brutal stretch that featured seven games in 22 days.
But it was a game where they had to get at least one point. They needed to keep pace in the Western Conference, with other opponents near them in the standings not offering much assistance.
"I actually at halftime would've settled for a point because the energy levels were getting so low. Then when we scored so late, you're thinking we might pinch three," Heath said. "Then they get a penalty and I'm thinking ‘Don't be greedy, we're going to settle for a point.' Then when he saves the penalty, it actually makes that whole victory even that much sweeter. The noise in the stadium was incredible and it was just another great moment for us in the new arena."
It's the first season at Allianz Field, and Minnesota United is 6-1-3 on its home turf.
Defending penalty kicks is nothing new for Mannone. He faced them the last two seasons with Reading FC in England. With Ziegler waiting to take the kick, Mannone waited before anticipating what he might do. He relied on a mix of his own skill, and seeing film of Ziegler.
He made an educated guess, and it was right.
"These fans, this stadium, that's a massive moment for myself, for my family, for the club and for the players who work so hard to get another three points," Mannone said.
The Loons host Aston Villa in a friendly Wednesday night at Allianz Field before taking a seven match win streak to Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
"I think any coach will tell you, you could talk to your players, you can try and give them confidence, but there's nothing like winning games in futbol to actually instill that into the group," Heath said. "We've been on a good run of late."