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RSL and Minnesota play to scoreless draw in second game of MLS group stage

Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino, right, battles Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird (10) as midfielder Everton Luiz (25) pursues during the first half of a soccer match in Kissimmee, Fla., Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

It was a good night to be a soccer net.

In a snoozer of a match, Real Salt Lake and Minnesota tied 0-0 after 90 minutes in which those nets never had to be tested.

The game may have started at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time in Orlando, but that didn’t mean we expected both teams to come out asleep. But that’s what we saw: neither team even had a shot on goal in the first half.

Minnesota came close on the final kick of the period. Aaron Schoenfeld had a shot ping off the bar on a nice driving run and pass from Osvaldo Alonso, always a thorn in RSL’s side.

The second half was better from an opportunity creation point of view. Minnesota had two nice chances: one came on a driving Robin Lod run and shot, which forced a terrific diving save from RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Later, Thomás Chacón had a chance to chip MacMath with a shot from just outside the 18-yard box, which MacMath scrambled to get a hand to.

Overall, RSL kept Minnesota’s attack, which has been dangerous in early MLS play, to much less joy than they’re used to. “The guys in front were outstanding again, not just in the build up, but also defending shots and crosses and making it really hard for the Minnesota forwards,” MacMath said of his back line.

Head coach Freddy Juarez agreed. “I’m really happy there right now with the way the back line is composed, and we can continue to grow at it. It’s not a finished product.”

RSL’s best chance of the match — and perhaps their only serious one — came in the 87th minute. With substitute Sam Johnson using his speed driving down the middle of the field, he received a ball with an opportunity to slot it past Minnesota keeper Tyler Miller. But Johnson pulled his effort well wide.

Albert Rusnak had to be substituted in the 34th minute after suffering an apparent hip injury about ten minutes earlier. Rusnak tried to stay on the field, but when he attempted to make a quick turn later, he seemed to further injure himself. Rusnak is one of RSL’s Designated Players, and his status moving forward hasn’t yet been determined.

The result does place both teams with four points in Group D in the MLS is Back tournament. The top two teams in the group will automatically qualify for the knockout stages. With one game remaining, that’s currently RSL and Minnesota. Sporting Kansas City have three points, while Colorado has zero so far.

RSL plays Kansas City next, with the winner assured of moving forward. However, even if RSL were to lose that game, they’d be in a pretty good place in terms of qualifying — the top four third-place teams out of the six groups will also make it through.

Jeizon Ramirez doesn’t make 22-man selection list

One of RSL’s biggest summer signings was 19-year-old Jeizon Ramirez, a Venezuelan winger with a lot of promise who was signed to a Young Designated Player deal with the club. But when he was left off the 11-man bench list in the last two games, it was natural to wonder what was going on.

Juarez explained that Ramirez “came out when this whole COVID thing happened and lost a little bit of fitness, and it isn’t quite as sharp as we’d like him to be.” As a result, he’s been asked to re-dedicate himself to his efforts on the training pitch and in the gym in Orlando.

“He’s had a great attitude. When I sat down with him and talked to him, he knows that we expect a lot more. Last week, he had one of his best weeks of training since he’s been here,” Juarez explained. “We’ve got to make sure that everybody on our team knows that if we’re gonna grow something to what we want to be, that everyone on the team knows nothing is handed to anyone.”

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