Minnesota United FC vs. Columbus Crew Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Fire in Chicago, Minnesota United returns this week to Allianz Field to face Columbus Crew SC. MNUFC began the season with a roadtrip that featured three times as many wins as the team managed last season, but also plenty of goals conceded. A shakeup of the starting XI following a loss to Toronto FC has led to greater defensive resolve, but also a dry spell for goals. They'll be looking to jumpstart the offense against a Crew SC squad that has lost six of their last seven.
Kickoff on Saturday, May 18 is set for 7:00 p.m. CT 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.
It would seem that a major component of Minnesota United's defensive improvement stems from the shift to a 4-3-3 formation and away from Head Coach Adrian Heath's favored 4-2-3-1. It's certainly helped to provide more cover in midfield in the form of Rasmus Schuller and has helped the Loons overcome numbers disparities in the middle of the park as they did against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the third game of the season.
The shift, though, has also coincided with some struggles for offensive sparkplug Darwin Quintero, who seems to perform best when given free rein of the space between the midfielders and the front of the attack in a very open #10 role. Heath, though, is quick to point out that other than against Chicago, the Loons have not lacked for opportunities on the offensive end despite scoring only two goals in their last four games.
"If you look at it like that, there's only six teams that's scored more goals than us in the league. So are all them panicking? Probably not," said Heath. "We have created chances in games. Looking back at the last three home games, I can think of four or five clear-cut chances that we've had. Were we not creating anything, I might have more of a concern. This weekend, we weren't good in many aspects and that's one of them: didn't create anything. I think Ethan [Finlay] had a shot in the first 20 minutes that got deflected for a corner. After that, I can't think of many."
And so it remains to be seen if the team maintains the same shape against Columbus or shakes things up. For Ethan Finlay - who has put in a lot of work on the right wing in both the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 this season - it's less about the numbers in the formation than getting everyone who's out there on the same page and then turning those pages together.
"You defend as an 11 and you attack as an 11," he said. "We've been attacking a lot with Romain [Metanire] on that righthand side early on and teams have cued in on that a little bit and are maybe sending a couple more numbers out there. So we have to find ways to break teams down. I think Chicago, if you look at it, they drop in a pretty low block for a good portion of that first half and our ability to break them down wasn't good enough on the night. That's something that other teams might look at as a blueprint. We have to find a way through there. I think some of the drills we've been doing this week with playing in tight spaces and playing these seams and turning and playing forward [address that]. So we're calling attention to it ourselves and we need to improve. I think if we get guys in those positions, we're going to create opportunities."
Prior to the season, many had pegged MNUFC for a spot in the playoffs, likely as a lower seed. Now, 11 games and roughly a third of the way into the season, the team's 15 points and 4-4-3 record has them slotted into the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Extrapolating out from that position with 13 home games against 10 road games, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect 48ish points and a postseason berth - something that Heath expects himself.
"I said we'd have a better idea when the schedule evened itself up. After the next two home games, that'll be seven and six (road vs. home)," he said. "That'll give us a fair idea of where we are and what we're looking at for the rest of the season. I fully expect us to be in playoff position come the end, so let's make sure we start that this weekend."
Columbus will not make it easy. After bringing in Caleb Porter following the departure of Greg Berhalter for the USMNT, the Crew began well by keeping the system consistent. But more recently the tough, tactically disciplined team has gone through a swoon that's seen them lose six of their last seven.
"I think they won their first three or four and were top of the East for a while," said Heath. "And then, obviously, the last few weeks have not been kind to them. But it's strange because I look at what they have going forward and now they've brought [David] Accam into the mix. They've got Robinho, they've got [Pedro] Santos, they've got [Federico] Higuain, they've just signed [Gyasi] Zardes to a DP slot, so they're really happy with him. Then you look at midfield with Artur and [Wil] Trapp, they bought Guzman now. They've got good players and I'm sure they'll be a bit concerned but knowing Caleb [Porter] as I do, they'll be motivated coming in here and thinking that this is the win that's going to start them on another roll."
For Finlay, the matchup will of course carry a little extra juice as he faces the team for which he'd played his entire career before joining Minnesota United midway through the 2017 season.
"I wore the colors and the crest for six and a half years, they're the team that drafted me and I'm appreciative of what they've done for me and my family, but I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want to beat up on them pretty bad," he said with a smile. "There's plenty of guys I know on that team that I still call friends but at the same time it's just another team for a lot of guys. I'll take the little chip on my shoulder personally and I'll probably have to store that away so I don't get too jacked up for this game. It's another game, another opportunity to get three points, and they're a team that's struggling a little bit with a couple of losses and we have a great opportunity come Saturday."
Minnesota United's next game is an international friendly against the Bundesliga's Hertha Berlin on Wednesday, May 22. That game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT on FOX Sports North+ and streaming on FOX Sports GO.
Preview interviews with Head Coach Adrian Heath and midfielder Ethan Finlay.
Head Coach Adrian Heath on the recent scoring struggles with two goals in four games... "If you look at it like that, there's only six teams that's scored more goals than us in the league. So are all them panicking? Probably not. We have created chances in games. Looking back at the last three home games, I can think of four or five clear-cut chances that we've had. Were we not creating anything, I might have more of a concern. This weekend, we weren't good in many aspects and that's one of them: didn't create anything. I think Ethan had a shot in the first 20 minutes that got deflected for a corner. After that, I can't think of many."
Adrian Heath on how they're preparing for the Crew... "We've looked at a lot of things. We've got one or two decisions to make on our own end. I can't pre-empt what Columbus are going to do. All I know is they'll be motivated. They've got really good individuals - if we give them time and space to play, they will hurt you and then we've got to take advantage of the possession we get. We haven't lost at home yet and I want to continue that this weekend."
Midfielder Ethan Finaly on the team's comfort level at Allianz Field with a few games under their belts... "It takes time for every individual to kind of get used to the surroundings and where they're at on the field, but I would say at this point, everybody knows what to expect when they come into the locker room and what a gameday looks like. Everyone's settled down, their families have been taken care of. So now it's about getting results. The supporters have been great - we've only had one "Wonderwall" and we'd like to hear more of that, but the support's been fantastic and I think the pitch continues to improve week by week."
Ethan Finaley on facing his former team on Saturday... "I wore the colors and the crest for six and a half years, they're the team that drafted me and I'm appreciative of what they've done for me and my family, but I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want to beat up on them pretty bad. There's plenty of guys I know on that team that I still call friends but at the same time it's just another team for a lot of guys. I'll take the little chip on my shoulder personally and I'll probably have to store that away so I don't get too jacked up for this game. It's another game, another opportunity to get three points, and they're a team that's struggling a little bit with a couple of losses and we have a great opportunity come Saturday."
Columbus Technical Director Pat Onstad was a teammate of Minnesota Sporting Director Manny Lagos on the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003.
Lagos ended his playing career with Columbus in 2005.
Loons Assistant Coach Mark Watson played the inaugural MLS Season in 1996 with Columbus.
Ethan Finlay spent his entire professional career with Columbus before joining MNUFC. He played for Crew SC from 2012 through mid-2017 when we was traded to the Loons.
Joe Bendik and Kevin Molino were teammates while playing for Orlando City in 2016.
Jon Kempin played with two current MNUFC players during his time with Sporting Kansas City. He was a teammate of Lawrence Olum's from 2011 to 2014 and 2016 and teamed up with Ike Opara from 2013 to 2016.
Waylon Francis and Osvaldo Alonso played for Seattle Sounders FC in 2018.
Niko Hansen played for Sounders FC's U23 team while Alonso was on the first team on 2014.
Alex Crognale and Dayne St. Clair were teammates at the University of Maryland in 2015 and 2016.
David Guzman and Olum played for Portland Timbers during the 2017 and 2018 MLS seasons.
David Accam and Abu Danladi both came up through the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana.
Minnesota is unbeaten in its first four games at Allianz Field.
The Loons' 10-game road scoring streak came to an end last week against Chicago Fire.
Minnesota's Romain Metanire and Columbus' Will Trapp will be suspended with their next caution.
Including the international friendly on May 22 against Hertha Berlin, MNUFC begins a stretch of three home games in eight days on Saturday.
Columbus has just one win in the past seven games.
Ethan Finlay will make his 180th regular season appearance the next time he features for MNUFC.
Romario Ibarra is tied for the third-most accurate player in MLS with 66.7% of his shots ending up on target.
The Loons are the fifth-highest scoring team in the league with 19 goals so far this season.
Darwin Quintero has contributed to a club record 34 goals in his MNUFC career. He has 16 goals and 18 assists in 37 appearances.
Minnesota's last meeting with Columbus was one of three games that no cards were given since the club joined MLS.
Minnesota and Columbus have both been given 20 yellow cards in 2019.
Crew SC's 79 corner kicks is the highest total in MLS.
The Loons have scored multiple goals in six of their 11 games. They have scored three or more goals four times.
Columbus midfielder Federico Higuain featured on the bench in the MLS Team of the Week for Week 11.
Crew SC earned 13 of their 16 points in the first six games of the season.
10 of Minnesota's goals have been scored by midfielders.
Crew SC's -6 goal differential is the lowest among all teams currently in a playoff spot.
Columbus' Zack Steffen and Gyasi Zardes earned league honors last season. Steffen was named 2018 Goalkeeper of the Year and Zardes the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year.
Steffen has the longest shutout streak so far in 2019, keeping opponents off the board for 499 minutes of play from March 3 through April 13.
Allianz Field will be the third different venue played in as many games for the all-time series between the two teams. TCF Bank Stadium and MAPFRE stadium hosted the previous two meetings.
G - Bobby Shuttleworth (knee)
D - Chase Gasper (leg)
D - Carter Manley (leg)
D - Milton Valenzuela (ACL)
D - Harrison Afful (jaw)
D - Waylon Francis (muscle strain)
GK - Zack Steffen (foot)
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. COLUMBUS CREW
ALLIANZ FIELD | SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
5.18.19 | MLS Week 12 | MLS Game No. 12
7:00 p.m. CT (FSN + / MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MIN: 4-4-3; 1-0-3 at home
CLB: 5-7-1; 1-4-0 on the road
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