Hlongwane puts on a show as Loons top Columbus, advance in Leagues Cup

Bongokuhle Hlongwane, 23, put his name up next to Lionel Messi — and then surpassed him, casually and of course with a smile. Hlongwane’s third brace Friday in as many matches ballooned his Leagues Cup goal total to six, now the tournament’s highest ahead of Messi, FC Cincinnati‘s Brandon Vázquez and CF Monterrey’s Germán Berterame, tied at five.

Under the bright lights at Lower.com Field, it was just another match for Minnesota United’s rising right-wing star to have fun.

Hlongwane made the pitch his playground.

And his teammates joined in, because they had to.

For a game otherwise highlighted by the Columbus Crew’s offensive masterclass, the Loons prevailed in an epic 4-3 shootout that was decided by left center back Miguel Tapias‘s score in the aftermath of five consecutive unsuccessful penalty kicks between the teams.

It looked as if Columbus left its visitors’ chances moot, after who other than ex-Loons forward Christian Ramírez footed in a close-range goal to conclude yet another clinical offensive possession for his club. Malte Amundsen sent a textbook through ball to Yaw Yeboah, who had the easy decision to drop off an assist to the Crew’s second-leading goal scorer — behind elite striker Lucas Zelarayán, who was transferred Monday to Saudi Arabian side Al Fateh.

But the Loons weren’t ready to concede.

Emanuel Reynoso did what he does best, setting up Hassani Dotson for a 91st-minute equalizer that fittingly required the high-octane round of 32 match to be decided on penalties.

The night’s first goal came after a fast break that Reynoso initiated, Teemu Pukki furthered and Hlongwane finished. It was a sight for Loons fans to savor — and then the 23-year-old South African added another.

BOXSCORE: Loons 3, Columbus 3 (Minnesota advances 4-3 on penalties)

MNUFC coach Adrian Heath has lauded Hlongwane this season for his newfound willingness to stick himself into the right running lanes and fight for positioning in the box, all of which paid off on the other end of a critical Joseph Rosales cross in the 54th minute.

Columbus had jumped ahead 2-1 just minutes prior on a well-set-up offensive possession that concluded with a goal for Alexandru Matan, before Hlongwane bodied — yes, bodied — in his second goal only a few feet from the goal line.

Heath once said that headers weren’t his thing, after all.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.

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