A trio of goals from Minnesota United 2 saw the Western Conference Frontier Division side claim their first three points of their inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign, downing Real Monarchs 3-2 at Zions Bank Stadium Friday evening.
After starting their season with two straight losses against North Texas SC and Sporting Kansas City II, MNUFC2 can finally add a tally to the win column.
Head coach Cameron Knowles praised his side for their "energy" and "effort" on the pitch to open and close out the game, despite conceding a late goal, which Knowles thought made the match "a bit too interesting" to end it.
"We played well in parts of the first two games, but today felt like we put everything together," Knowles said. "Tonight was a big step in their development, and I'm really happy for the guys."
Midfielder Diogo Pacheco scored the winning goal for MNUFC2, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner of the net in the 74th minute, minutes after coming on as a substitute. Knowles said that Pacheco was someone who had a "very good collegiate career" playing at the University of Akron and was a player that they were after all offseason despite some complications to bring him to the team.
Pacheco was supposed to attend the MNUFC2 open combine in January for roster building, but he fell ill during it and then suffered an injury setback in the following days. Despite that, the team from Minnesota kept tabs on him and brought him in for preseason training, where Knowles said he "impressed from day one."
"He's a really good player; he's strong on the ball and has a really powerful shot. I'm really happy to see him get the goal because he came on as a sub and took his chance tonight."
The contest featured a battle between one of MLS NEXT Pro's oldest sides versus the youngest side, with the average age of MNUFC2 being 23-years-old and Real Monarchs being 17-years-old.
Knowles sees it as a testimony to how MLS NEXT Pro "bridges the gap" between the academy and the first team and praised the Real Salt Lake academy for their work to establish such a young and competitive team.
"The strength of the RSL (Real Salt Lake) academy is reflected in their roster. Their homegrown signings just keep getting younger and younger and it's incredible to see how they keep producing talented players."
With three points finally under their belt, MNUFC2 and Cameron Knowles feel like they've cleared a massive roadblock out of their way. With what Knowles described as "the potential" of his side, excitement awaits for the Western Conference Frontier Division side.