Minnesota United FC vs. Columbus Crew Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Despite their undefeated status, the Loons come into their Knockout Stage game against Columbus Crew SC in a familiar spot: as the underdogs. Without Ike Opara and having dealt with absences due to injury for Luis Amarilla, Kevin Molino and Osvaldo Alonso, Minnesota United had to gut out every point the team garnered from its three Group Stage games. From a last minute win over Sporting KC to a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake to a sometimes galvanizing 2-2 draw against Colorado Rapids, the team has fought tooth and nail to get back to the form that saw them hang two authoritative wins on Portland and San Jose to open the season back in March. The good news is that Ethan Finlay has looked top-notch, putting in a brace against Colorado and chomping at the bit for a tournament match-up with his former team. Romain Metanire has been another bright spot in the tournament and Minnesota United will need contributions from all over the pitch to get through to the Quarterfinals.
ADRIAN HEATH ON ON THE TEAM'S DEFENSIVE MENTALITY
"That honesty we've got within the group ... we've got some clips of Luis Amarilla and Aaron Schoenfeld running 70 yards because people are out of position from a set piece in getting back, so the attitude of the group has been fantastic. Have we played as well as we'd like? Maybe not but I can't fault this group after four months off and we've played our fourth or fifth 11 v 11. I'm delighted with the group, delighted with the start we've made and now we have to go and try and make it one better on Tuesday night."
TYLER MILLER ON COLUMBUS
"We obviously know they're a strong team, they always have been. They have a really dynamic, good midfielder - good midfield and good attack so we know that we're going to have to be cautious there but I think there is going to be opportunities for us to counter and opportunities for us to get chances, which in a one-off game, you never really know. It's all about who shows up in that game that really will advance."
Columbus Crew has been the toast of the tournament so far, winning all three of its Group Stage games while allowing zero goals.
Much of that has come down to Darlington Nagbe's steadiness in midfield and his 98.1% pass completion percentage in the tournament.
Forward Gyasi Zardes has been the beneficiary of that consistency, scoring three goals in as many games.
All that said, it's also possible that Columbus has not yet been truly tested. Presumptive favorites Atlanta United were woeful throughout the tournament, while New York Red Bulls is not the force they were a few years ago and FC Cincinnati have looked good under new head coach Jaap Stam, but are still in many ways a work in progress.
Look for MNUFC to play them tough and provide the strongest challenge thus far for the Crew.
Whichever team advances to the Quarterfinals will face the winner of Monday's game between San Jose and Real Salt Lake.
Minnesota United would likely prefer to face the Quakes, a team the Loons have beaten at the last three times of asking with a total of 11 goals to San Jose's three.
Things have been much more even between Minnesota and RSL, with three draws in their last five games - although the Claret-and-Cobalt have not beaten the Loons since their inaugural season in MLS.
Beyond that, it gets no easier, with the Semifinals holding a matchup with one of the newly formidable Orlando City, the reigning MLS champion Seattle Sounders or perennial favorites LAFC.
FIRST TOUCHES: Luis Amarilla leads Minnesota with 2.96 expected goals (xG), which also puts him fourth in the league in xG. [READ MORE]
Opara - undisclosed
Molino - L hamstring
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