Minnesota United FC vs. Chicago Fire Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Following a three-game homestand that saw Minnesota United keep two clean sheets, gather five points and stay undefeated at Allianz Field, the team will hit the road for Chicago to take on a Fire team featuring a familiar face in former captain Francisco Calvo, who was traded last week. The Loons will look to recapture the early road form that saw them notch wins against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the San Jose Earthquakes and the New York Red Bulls. Minnesota has also won its only two games against the Fire in MLS, one home and one away, both by a score of 2-1.
Kickoff for the game at SeatGeek Stadium is set for 7:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, May 11, with pregame coverage getting underway at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
While their most recent game ended in a 1-1 draw against Seattle Sounders FC, Head Coach Adrian Heath re-emphasized after training on Tuesday that more than anything, the result was an indicator of how far the team has come this season.
"I thought for 25 minutes of the first half, that's probably as pleased as I've been since I've been here, as the coach," he said. "We've had some big results over the two years, but in terms of actually the group doing what was asked of them and moving the ball and our ability to keep possession and make it difficult for the Sounders, I was really, really pleased. We rode our luck a little bit late on when they put the big guys on and we were struggling in terms of physically marking. Overall, I thought it was a fair result and I thought it was a great advert for MLS."
Since allowing four goals to Toronto on the road in mid-April, Minnesota's defense has tightened up considerably in tandem with a backline shift that's seen Brent Kallman and Eric Miller step in for Michael Boxall and the now-departed Francisco Calvo. Since the change, MNUFC has only allowed a single goal - and that one was a worldy from Cristian Roldan. Another element of the improved defense has been the move to a 4-3-3 formation that's packed more bodies through the midfield. But the Loons' scoring is also down, a fact that midfielder Jan Gregus chalks up more to finishing than a broader lack of chances. His remedy?
"Maybe to be more effective, because I think we had a lot of chances recently," he said. "We could have won the games, so it's more about effectiveness and creating a little bit more chances. But on the other hand, like I said, I think the chances were there and we have to score goals."
In working to correct the defensive breakdowns that marred a generally positive start to the season, the team focused less on overall shape or tactics and more on eliminating individual mistakes.
"We haven't beat ourselves, we're not making individual mistakes that have cost us dearly," said Heath. "Nearly every mistake that we've made - whoever it may be - has cost us every time. We've spoke about it, we looked at all the goals. We didn't think it was a collective problem and you know, individuals are not making mistakes and not costing us dear. If we can continue with that, we believe the shape of the team is good."
Perhaps the solution on the other side of the ball is similar - less a matter of dramatically changing tactics than sparking moments of individual brilliance in attack, instead of stamping out individual lapses in focus on defense. While some might look at Chicago's lackluster performance so far and feel they're ripe for getting right on offense, Heath is quick to point out the depth of talent on the roster and the feeling that they're better than their record would indicate.
"They've got the experience of [Dax] McCarty and [Bastian] Schweinsteiger in the middle of the park," he said. "They know the game inside out. Now they put [Nico Gaitan] in the #10 role, and I remember him when he first went to Benfica as a young guy. Terrific player. They've got the power and size of C.J. [Sapong] on one side, [Aleksandar] Katai, and [Nemanja] Nikolic always looks as though he's got a goal in him, so we've got to hold on again this weekend. But we've proved that we're a different proposition than we've been in the past. But we're going to need all out experience and our willingness and enthusiasm that we've shown in the last few weeks."
For the always deadpan Gregus, it's even simpler than that.
"It's all about being compact offensively and defensively and being active," he said. "And don't let the opposition score more goals than us."
Minnesota United's next game has them returning to Allianz Field to face Columbus Crew SC on Saturday, May 18 in a match that kicks off at 7:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Links to MNUFC training soundbytes, match notes and media guide are listed below, plus noteworthy first touches and an updated injury report:
Head Coach Adrian Heath on what the difference has been defensively recently ..."We haven't beat ourselves, we're not making individual mistakes that have cost us dearly. Nearly every mistake that we've made - whoever it may be - has cost us every time. We've spoke about it, we looked at all the goals. We didn't think it was a collective problem and you know, individuals are not making mistakes and not costing us dear. If we can continue with that, we believe the shape of the team is good. It's been a good two or three games for us."
Adrian Heath on the challenges presented by the Fire ..."They've got the experience of [Dax] McCarty and [Bastian] Schweinsteiger in the middle of the park. They know the game inside out. Now they put [Nico Gaitan] in the #10 role, and I remember him when he first went to Benfica as a young guy. Terrific player. They've got the power and size of C.J. [Sapong] on one side, [Aleksandar] Katai, and [Nemanja] Nikolic always looks as though he's got a goal in him, so we've got to hold on again this weekend. But we've proved that we're a different proposition than we've been in the past. But we're going to need all out experience and our willingness and enthusiasm that we've shown in the last few weeks."
Midfielder Jan Gregus on the key to getting the offense going now that the defense has stepped up ..."Maybe to be more effective, because I think we had a lot of chances recently. We could have won the games, so it's more about effectiveness and creating a little bit more chances. But on the other hand, like I said, I think the chances were there and we have to score goals."
Jan Gregus on the key to getting points out of the game against Chicago ..."It's going to be the same for us. It's all about being compact offensively and defensively and being active and don't let the opposition score more goals than us."
Francisco Calvo played for Minnesota from 2017 through May 2019. The Costa Rica international made 60 appearances for the Loons, playing a club record 5,398 minutes. He scored five goals and assisted four.
MNUFC Sporting Director Manny Lagos and Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee both played for Chicago Fire during their careers. Lagos was taken by the Fire in the 1997 MLS Expansion Draft, while Magee was loaned to the club from the Minnesota Thunder.
Ethan Finlay played for Chicago Fire Premier during the 2010 PDL season.
Cristian Martinez and Finlay were teammates on Columbus Crew SC in 2016 and 2017.
CJ Sapong, Lawrence Olum and Ike Opara played for Sporting Kansas City in 2013 and 2014. Sapong also played with Kevin Molino while on loan with Orlando City in 2013.
Fabian Hebers and Eric Miller played for Creighton University in 2013.
Minnesota earned its first-ever road win in MLS against Chicago on August 20, 2017. Abu Danladi scored twice as the Loons claimed a 2-1 win at SeatGeek Stadium.
Defender Ike Opara scored his first goal as a member of MNUFC last week against Seatte. His header, following a Jan Gregus free kick, opening the scoring in a 1-1 draw with Sounders FC.
Gregus now has three assists this year, tying him with Darwin Quintero for the second-most on the team.
Vito Mannone set a new club record for longest shutout streak in MLS. He did not allow a goal for 233 minutes, surpassing Bobby Shuttleworth's previous record of 201 minutes set in 2018.
Osvaldo Alonso made his 300th MLS start last week against Seattle where he played 10 seasons prior to joining MNUFC.
Miguel Ibarra will make his 70th MLS appearance the next time he features for the Loons.
Quintero became the first MNUFC player to take 100 shots since the team joined MLS.
Danladi (2G), Ethan Finlay (3G/6A), Miguel Ibarra (1A), Kevin Molino (1A) and Opara (1G) all have career points against Chicago.
Minnesota has earned 2-1 victories in both meetings with Chicago.
Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic was the 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner, scoring 24 goals that season.
Nikolic was named to the 2017 MLS Best XI.
Gregus has taken 43 corner kicks, the second-most in MLS.
Romario Ibarra is among the most accurate players in the league. 63.6% of his shots end up on target.
Minnesota is tied for fourth in MLS with 19 goals this season.
The Fire have taken just 39 corner kicks this season, the second-fewest in the league.
The Loons co-lead the league with four three-goal games.
Minnesota has scored on 15.3% of its total shots. Chicago has a scoring rate of 9.5%.
The Loons have scored at least once in their last 10 road games. The streak began on September 12, 2018.
Minnesota is 3-3-0 on the road this year. Another road win will set a new single-season record for the club.
G - Bobby Shuttleworth (knee)
D - Chase Gasper (leg)
D - Andre Reynolds II (thigh)
M - Raheem Edwards (knee)
D - Marcel (thigh)
F - CJ Sapong (thigh)
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. CHICAGO FIRE
SEATGEEK STADIUM | BRIDGEVIEW, ILLINOIS
5.11.19 | MLS Week 11 | MLS Game No. 11
7:00 p.m. CT (FSN + / MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MIN: 4-3-3; 3-3-0 on the road
CHI: 2-4-4; 2-1-2 at home
MINvsCHI Match Guide
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