MATCH PREVIEW MNUFC vs. Sporting Kansas City
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Following a dramatic, last-minute comeback to defeat Atlanta United 3-2 on the road, Minnesota United returns to the Twin Cities this weekend for the final home match of the team's first MLS regular season on Saturday, October 7 against Sporting Kansas City. To recognize the fans who have made the atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium so incredible this season, the team is celebrating Fan Appreciation Day presented by Star Tribune with dollar dogs from when gates open until kickoff, tribute videos and up to 50% off select merchandise during the match and post-match fireworks. The match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT with pre-match coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX 9+ and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
Asked what it is that can spark a comeback like that, Head Coach Adrian Heath responded, "Belief more than anything else. The belief that you can turn it around. And we've shown a lot of that recently. But: strange game. At no stage during the evening did I think that we weren't going to take something out of it. Even when it went to 2-1. And obviously they had scored the two goals when they went down to 10 men, and obviously the crowd were incredible in the game at the time, but the guys looked as though they were dangerous all evening.
"At halftime I said to them, we can go on and win this," he continued. "If we can defend the same as we did, I thought we would go on and get something from the game. Really, really pleased for the players. After our first home game against them, I think it's a marker of how far we've come during the year."
One of the side's steadiest contributors has been defender Jerome Thiesson, who joined the Loons just days before their first match against Atlanta and provided the crucial assist on Molino's match-winner on Tuesday. He is the minutes leader for the team with 2,685, an achievement that makes him feel both lucky and proud.
"I'm just really happy I'm healthy and I'm able to be at this position for the coach. Then obviously, as a player, you want to train as well as possible, so that the coach counts on you. And yeah, I'm a little proud of it," he said, before correcting himself. "Not a little: I'm pretty proud of it. And I like that it's that way. Hopefully my body will continue to be healthy. I work a lot on it before and after team practices, so I'm in shape to be able to play that many minutes. As long as it works out, and as long as the coach counts on me, I'm happy to do that."
Thiesson has been consistently impressed with the support of the fans at TCF Bank Stadium and he in turn has become a fan favorite as he's wholeheartedly embraced life in the Twin Cities as evidenced by his Instagram feed, where he's documented trips to Minnesota Wild, Vikings and Twins games. He knew right from the start at the team's snowy home opener that the fans here were something special.
"The first game I had for Minnesota United, they impressed me the most," he said. "It was the 6-1 loss to Atlanta, in circumstances I've never had before. Even as a player, it was terrible. And they just were there all game, cheering all game, didn't go home. And even the result was terrible, not only the weather, and it didn't stop them. In the end, there was cheering, no booing, like we stick with you, go ahead, we believe in you."
The Loons will need that belief again if they want to challenge Sporting KC on Saturday. Their 2-0 win over SKC on May 7 at home was one of the early highlights from the squad's inaugural MLS season, but they later fell to them 3-0 at Children's Mercy Park and then 4-0 in Open Cup play less than two weeks later. In all, the visiting team has not scored a goal in the season series so far. Both teams will be missing players due to international call-ups (including Francisco Calvo, Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino, Jermaine Taylor and Michael Boxall for MNUFC) and Heath is looking forward to the challenge.
"Doesn't matter who they play, everybody knows what their roles are," he said. "And, you know, although they're missing three starters, their depth that they've amassed over the last three, four, five years, is probably the envy of a lot of teams. I've got an incredible amount of respect for Peter Vermes and his staff. They've stuck to the plan, and they've just gradually grown and grown every single year. So we know it's going to be tough, but hey, I'm really looking forward to it. It's the last game at home, it would be nice to go out with a win, and I know that's what the boys will be trying to do."
M - Bernardo Anor (left lower leg injury)
M/D - Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles injury)
M - Sam Cronin (head injury)
D - Marc Burch (left thigh)
F - Cameron Porter (broken fibula and ligament damage in right ankle)
M - Soni Mustivar (hamstring strain)
D - Matt Besler (head/face injury)
Kevin Ellis was loaned from Sporting KC to Orlando City in 2013, where they played with Kevin Molino and were coached by Adrian Heath. Orlando won the USL Championship that season. Benny Feilhaber played with Bobby Shuttleworth in 2011 and 2012 on the New England Revolution. Seth Sinovic and Brent Kallman were teammates at Creighton University in 2009. Sinovic later played with Shuttleworth during the 2010 and 2011 seasons on the New England Revolution. Peter Vermes and Manny Lagos were teammates on the New York/New Jersey Metrostars for the inaugural MLS season in 1996. Both teams are missing players due to international duty. MNUFC will be without Michael Boxall (New Zealand), Johan Venegas (Costa Rica), Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica). Sporting Kansas City will be missing Matt Besler (USA), Benny Feilhaber (USA), Soni Mustivar (Haiti), James Musa (New Zealand), Graham Zusi (USA), Kevin Oliveira (Cape Verde) and Soony Saad (Lebanon). Minnesota set team records for most goals in a half (three) and assists in a half (five) against Atlanta on Tuesday night. Those five assists also tied the team record for assists in a match. Sam Nicholson is currently on a two-match points streak. He scored in the 2-1 defeat at Houston Dynamo on September 30 and logged an assist in the 3-2 victory at Atlanta United FC on October 3. Minnesota has held a man-advantage in two of its past three matches. Sporting KC has earned 10 clean sheets this year, but has also been shut out 11 times. This is Minnesota's final home match of its inaugural MLS season. The Loons are 7-6-3 when playing at TCF Bank Stadium. MNUFC has claimed 13 points in its past seven matches, going 4-2-1 in that run. Five of those seven matches were on the road. MNUFC has sold out its past three home matches, with a total of four sellouts in 2017. There are nine possible points available for MNUFC to claim this season. Currently, the Loons sit seven points out of the playoffs. Molino scored his first match-winning goal of the season on October 3. The Trinidad and Tobago international headed home a cross from Jerome Thiesson in the seventh minute of stoppage time against Atlanta United. Thiesson and Miguel Ibarra earned their second match-winning assists of the year on October 3 for their respective roles in Molino's goal. The Loons are unbeaten in their past two home matches. Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez both found the back of the net last time Sporting Kansas City came to Minnesota back in May. Ibarra had two assists that match as well.
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