May 19, 2017 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Minnesota United FC
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- MNUFC returns home this week after a rugged but encouraging 3-2 loss against the in-form team of the season so far, Toronto FC. Kevin Molino (https://www.mnufc.com/players/25/kevin-molino) scored a brace and it took some outstandingly tough play from Jozy Altidore in the 77th minute to set up the match-winning goal from Tosaint Ricketts. Following on the heels of a 2-0 victory over Sporting KC in Week 10, the one-goal loss was another sign of a team moving in the right direction. Ask the Loons after their first two matches if they would take four goals scored and three goals conceded against the top two teams in the league, and they would take it.
Minnesota United is currently sitting even in the table on points with an LA Galaxy team that struggled out of the gate. Like MNUFC, though, Galaxy has rounded into form with a win against the New York Red Bulls and two draws in recent weeks. TCF Bank Stadium has been a welcoming environment for the Loons so far, with all of their wins coming at home, including three in their last four with two clean sheets. They'll look to continue that trend against LA this Sunday in a match that kicks off at 4:00 p.m. The match will be nationally broadcast on ESPN with pre-match radio coverage on MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN beginning at 3:30 p.m.
After making a statement on national TV in their win over Sporting KC, the Loons are looking forward to being on the big stage again. "There's more energy around the stadium, around training the day before and all that," said midfielder Sam Cronin (https://www.mnufc.com/players/95/sam-cronin) . "A little bit distracting but as a player, you want to play in the bigger games. That makes it a little bit bigger and the same thing happens with playoffs, the championship: the bigger the game, the more the attention, the more that's on the line."
Galaxy - who have been a marquee team virtually since the league's inception with well-known players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Steven Gerrard - may not have quite the star power this season that they've had in the past, but Romain Alessandrini's six goals and four assists are the same totals that perennial offensive threats Jozy Altidore and reigning MVP David Villa have rung up this season. Head Coach Adrian Heath is in no way looking past them.
"We know it's going to be tough against a really good club," he said. "They've had a difficult start but they look as though they're suddenly getting it all together. [Giovani] Dos Santos, Alessandrini, they've got quality players. Ashley Cole still is probably as good as any left back in the country. We expect it to be difficult, but we've proved we can play at this level and I'm confident if we play to our best, that we're more than enough to get a result this weekend."
"With good attacking players," said Cronin, "you can't give them time and space, you've got to make sure you limit that. Make sure we're in good spots defensively, good communication, all the things we've done okay with and we're getting better with."
As Heath has noted often this season, slowing a dynamic attack like LA's is a responsibility that doesn't just fall on the goalkeeper or even the back four plus the keeper. It will be on every player on the field to some extent, including midfielder Kevin Molino, who moved from the wing to an attacking midfield role in the team's last match against Toronto FC and came away with two goals in an active effort.
"I think the change of position helped him a little bit," said Heath when asked about Molino's play. "He was a little bit more involved and a little bit closer to goal more often. As I said before the season started, I fully expect him to get double figures this year in goals and assists and he had two at the weekend, so he's getting better all the time. Still, his teammates can use him more at times, show more confidence in him to give it to him when he's under pressure."
Molino is just one of several MNUFC players who have been stepping up in recent matches and beginning to show the kind of form Heath hoped they would this season. Midfielder Miguel Ibarra (https://www.mnufc.com/players/12/miguel-ibarra) has been progressing toward full match fitness after 18 months of playing a limited role for Club Leon in Mexico; rookie forward Abu Danladi (https://www.mnufc.com/players/14/abu-danladi) has come on strong since working his way into the Starting XI against Sporting KC; defender and captain Francisco Calvo (https://www.mnufc.com/players/9/francisco-calvo) has come a long way since the start of the season, providing defensive resilience in his tandem with Brent Kallman. A third of the way through their inaugural season, any given match could provide a stage for a different player to make his mark, and Heath expects this is just the beginning.
"You look at where we are after a third of the season and I think it's been two parts of that third if you like," said Heath. "The first was really poor: conceded too many goals and at one stage, looked as though it might be a step too far for us. And since then, we've more than proved that we can play in this division, more than hold our own, and I think we look onwards and upwards. I think I'm looking for the next middle portion of the season to kick on from where we are now. The result [against Toronto] at the weekend did nothing other than confirm to me that we belong at this level and we can make life difficult for any team in the league."
MNUFC will face another difficult test next week when they welcome Heath's former club, Orlando City SC, to TCF Bank Stadium. Orlando are second in the Eastern Conference and boast one of the league's most exciting young players in forward Cyle Larin and one of its biggest international stars in midfielder Kaka. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. as the club celebrates Pride Night. Pre-match coverage begins on My29 and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN at 6:30 p.m.
Minnesota United OUT: M - Bernardo Anor (left lower leg injury) OUT: D - Thomas De Villardi (left achilles)
LA Galaxy OUT: D - Robbie Rogers (ankle injury, out for season) OUT: M - Sebastian Lletget (foot surgery 3/24, out 4-6 months) OUT: GK - Clement Diop (hip injury) OUT: M - Jermaine Jones (MCL sprain 5/6, out 3-4 weeks)
LA Galaxy Bradley Diallo - Red card
Minnesota United -none- FIRST TOUCHES * The last time LA Galaxy played in Minnesota was the Copa Minnesota on November 11, 2007 at the Metrodome, when the David Beckham-led Galaxy team defeated the Minnesota Thunder in a penalty shootout (1-1 in regulation). * The Minnesota Thunder's first win over an MLS club was against the LA Galaxy. In 2004, the Thunder defeated LA 1-0 at NSC Stadium in Blaine to advance to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. LA got its revenge one year later, when it beat the Thunder in the semifinal round of the tournament. * Minnesota's 41 corner kicks is the third fewest total in MLS. * Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos was called up by the Mexico Men's National Team for World Cup Qualifying matches in June against Honduras and the United States. * LA not only leads MLS with five MLS Cups, but also has won four Supporters Shields. It has been a runner up for the Shield four times as well, a record it shares with Sporting Kansas City. * The Galaxy had two players in the 2016 MLS XI, with defender Jelle Van Damme and midfielder Giovani dos Santos earning a spot on the list. * LA and Minnesota are among the most disciplined teams in the league with just 14 and 15 offside calls respectively. Only Toronto FC has fewer, with 13. * Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo and Minnesota Sporting Director Manny Lagos were teammates on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team. * Onalfo was the interim manager for D.C. United in 2001, when now-Minnesota Assistant Coach Mark Watson played for the club. * Brian Rowe, Nathan Smith and Abu Danladi all played for UCLA in college. Smith and Danladi were teammates in 2014 and 2015. * Jermaine Jones and Bobby Shuttleworth were teammates in 2014 and 2015 with the New England Revolution. Jones then joined Sam Cronin and Marc Burch the following season on the Colorado Rapids. * Jon Kempin played with Kevin Molino and under Adrian Heath while on loan with Orlando City in 2013. * Emmanuel Boateng and Abu Danladi both graduated from the Right to Dream Academy. Boateng and Ismaila Jome both attended UC-Santa Barbra for college.