Minnesota United FC vs. Houston Dynamo Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - With six games remaining in what has been a gripping 2019 MLS season and the playoff race in the Wild West in full swing, Minnesota United takes on Houston Dynamo in its second visit to BBVA Compass Stadium in 2019. The two sides have already met twice this season: first, when Houston was undone by a lone goal from Romain Metanire during MLS play at the end of May; and second, in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup when the Loons scored three unanswered second half goals to erase and 2-0 deficit and advance to the Quarterfinals. Coming off their most significant away win in 2019, the Loons stunned LAFC 2-0 at Banc of California Stadium with a brace from Mason Toye and an organized defensive game plan implemented by Head Coach Adrian Heath. MNUFC heads to Houston with the possibility of putting together two successive wins on the road in MLS play for the first time since the very beginning of the 2019 season when they won 3-2 at Vancouver and then topped San Jose 3-0.
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. You can also follow along with timely game updates on Twitter by following @MNUFCMatch.
In a game that many expected league-leading LAFC to easily take all three points from, the Loons adhered to the narrative of the absolute unpredictability of MLS. While the result may have seemed unthinkable, the story of the game was quite simple: Mason Toye scored two brilliant left-footed goals in the first half and Adrian Heath's 3-5-2 - which later changed to a 5-4-1 - stifled waves of attacking play from LAFC. Missing Carlos Vela to a hamstring injury, the hosts were unable to break down Minnesota's defense, which was buoyed by Vito Mannone's eight saves. The result meant that MNUFC stood alone as the only team to beat LAFC on its home turf in 2019 MLS play.
"That was a huge win," said defender Brent Kallman, who quietly turned in a very disciplined and focused performance alongside fellow centerbacks Ike Opara and Michael Boxall. "To know that we can go and grit one out on the road is going to be really important down the stretch because we have a couple more tough road games left but also if we do get into the playoffs and we do have to play somewhere on the road, it could be somewhere like that where we are having to defend a lot and don't have the ball."
For his two expertly-executed strikes against LAFC, forward Mason Toye garnered many of the headlines going into MLS Week No. 27. While Toye's wonder strike that put MNUFC up two goals was a beauty, his first goal of the night truly exemplified the young forward's maturation as a soccer player. Receiving the ball out wide at the halfway line, Toye patiently held the ball up and dribbled in-field, allowing Jan Gregus to join the Minnesota counterattack. Toye calmly laid the ball off to Gregus and continued his run in behind the LAFC defense. Spotting the darting movement of Toye, Gregus sent a pinpoint through ball that released the forward on goal. Just like the finish that won the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against the Portland Timbers, Toye skillfully opened his body and curled an unstoppable left-footed strike from a tight angle past LAFC's goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega to give the Loons a decisive lead.
"He's very mature for his age when it comes to his work," said Kallman of Mason Toye's growth on and off the field. "In the off season, he stayed here and was in there [the facilities] almost every day, getting lifts in, working out. But then on top of that, the other stuff that he's taken onboard, all the extra film he watches and all the extra time he puts on the training pitch, it's all paid off. You can start to see it when he started to get some goals earlier in the year. He was starting to understand the timings and the movements and he's just building on it every week, it seems like. He's just going to keep adding things to his game. That's kind of the way he is."
"Going on the road against the league-leaders, the most in-form team in the league and putting a performance like we did and getting the result that we did, two great goals from Mason [Toye]," added Adrian Heath. "It was a good evening for us but we have to build on it now. It's put us in a good spot. [We've] got a big game coming up against Houston but now we move on."
The 2019 season has not been the kindest to the Houston Dynamo as they have had their share of struggles in MLS play as well as some unexpected turbulence behind the scenes. After posting an underwhelming 9-13-3 record in 2019 MLS play, Wilmer Cabrera was dismissed as head coach of the Dynamo. Stepping into his place was Houston's Assistant Coach Davy Arnaud, who is now serving as the interim manager until the end of the season. Arnaud has yet to grab a win for the Dynamo and is 0-2-1 since taking the helm. While Houston currently sits 10th in the west, the Dynamo have showed flashes of brilliance, including an emphatic 4-0 win at home over the Red Bulls and a 3-1 road win against Toronto, but have been mostly disappointing in their other games.
"If all their big guns are fit and healthy, they're a formidable team to play against at home," said Heath. "They may be the most dynamic counterattacking team in the league with [Romell] Quioto, [Mauro] Manotas, [Alberth] Elis and [Tomas] Martinez. They've got really good attacking pieces. As you always are as a coach, you're disappointed to see somebody like Wilmer [Cabrera] lose his job. But Davy [Arnaud] will come in now and he'll get them worked up and they'll be well organized and we know it's not going to be an easy game for us but if we can put a performance in similar to the one in LA, we give ourselves a good chance."
You've already heard it and will continue to hear it until the playoff race is settled, but Wednesday's game - as well as every remaining game - will have serious postseason implications for MNUFC. Three points in Houston could vault the Loons back into second place in the West and would seal yet another victory in what many have called the toughest remaining schedule in the Western Conference. Playing well and winning on the road is always easier said than done given the home field advantage that many teams in MLS boast. Just as water is wet, Houston, Texas, is hot and muggy so the Loons will have to become acclimatized to the sizzling heat as they did when temperatures climbed to triple digits in June's Open Cup Quarterfinal. While the Dynamo seem to be all but out of the playoff picture, the home side will be rearing to spoil Minnesota's push for postseason soccer. While the importance of Sunday's result again LAFC cannot be understated, Adrian Heath was sure to immediately place the utmost importance on shifting his squad's focus directly to the Dynamo rather than dwelling on the statement victory.
"We were really pleased with the players after the game in LA," said Heath. "As soon as we got back in the dressing room, from a coaching staff, we're talking to the players about let's get our minds fixed now purely and simply on Houston and prepare ourselves because every game is going to be crucial between now and the end of the season. I'd rather be above the red line than below it, I know that much. As I think I said a few months ago, I think the playoff race will go until the last day of the season."
Minnesota United's next game is back at home as it welcomes Real Salt Lake to Allianz Field on Sunday, September 15, presented by SeatGeek. That game kicks off at 4:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 4:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Preview interviews with Head Coach Adrian Heath and defender Brent Kallman.
Head Coach Adrian Heath on how the feeling is within the camp heading into Houston given how tight the west is... "It's the next game. We were really pleased with the players after the game in LA but as soon as we got back in the dressing room, from a coaching staff, we're talking to the players about let's get our minds fixed now purely and simply on Houston and prepare ourselves because every game is going to be crucial between now and the end of the season."
Adrian Heath on what it's like to be involved in the Western Conference playoff race... "It's good to be involved. I'd rather be above the red line than below it, I know that much. The one thing that we know is, it's game to game. You go from seventh to second. We were looking at the Seattle game, thinking that Seattle were going to draw and if we win we go second and if they win, we go third and then you drop down three spots - it's like snakes and ladders at the moment. It's tight. It's going to be like that all the way until the end of the season and as I think I said a few months ago, I think it will go until the last day of the season depending on who finishes second and who finishes seventh. Every game is crucial."
Defender Brent Kallman on how big taking three points at LAFC will be in retrospect... "It's huge. I think with how close everything is in the Western Conference, you're not really reaching too far to say that every game coming up is the biggest game. It's just kind of the nature of the beast and the situation that the Western Conference is in right now. That was a huge win. To know that we can go and grit one out on the road is going to be really important down the stretch because we have a couple more tough road games left but also if we do get into the playoffs and we do have to play somewhere on the road, it could be somewhere like that where we are having to defend a lot and don't have the ball. I think it was a good test and good for us to prove to ourselves that we can win a game like that."
Brent Kallman on what the team must do to not have a letdown in Houston after such a big win at LAFC... "I think we just have to take what the plan is and we've got to execute. That's what we did the other day. We really executed. We had a good feel for how the game was probably going to go and we executed what we were trying to do. We were able to get those goals on the break, which were great goals, by the way and buckle down and defend. The plan won't be the same for this game. It'll be different, every team is different. They [Houston] present different problems. We just have to make sure we are doing our jobs and we are paying attention to details and if we execute the plan we should be fine."
This will be Christian Ramirez's first game against MNUFC after playing five seasons with the club. He was traded to LAFC by the Loons in 2018 for up to $1 million in Allocation Money.
Houston acquired Ramirez in a trade with LAFC on August 7 for $250,000 in Allocation Money.
Minnesota defeated league-leading LAFC 2-0 in its last MLS game. The result was the Loons' second road shutout this year.
Mason Toye score both of the Loons' goals against LAFC. He now has six goals and three assists in 492 minutes.
Toye has now scored multiple goals in two games this year.
Toye's opening goal became his third game-winner in MLS this year.
Hassani Dotson and Toye were called up the U.S. U23 national team. The duo will join the team to prepare for a friendly against Japan on September 9.
Jan Gregus (Slovakia), Robin Lod (Finland), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago) and Rasmus Schuller (Finland) were called up for international duty by their respective national teams.
Loaned out players Romario Ibarra (Ecuador) and Ally Hamis Ng'anzi (Tanzania) will also represent their countries during the international window.
Vito Mannone kept his 10th clean sheet of the season, becoming the first MNUFC goalkeeper to reach a double-digit shutout total in the MLS era.
Mannone and Toye were named to the MLS Team of the Week for
Week 26 of the season.
Toye was also voted MLS Player of the Week in Week 26, the first MNUFC player to take the honor in 2019.
Houston's Interim Head Coach Davy Arnaud took over the team after Wilmer Cabrera was dismissed by the club on August 13. Cabrera had coached the team for three seasons.
The Dynamo have not won in their last seven MLS games, posting a
0-6-1 record in the stretch.
Minnesota won both meetings with Houston in 2019 so far. It claimed a 1-0 win in league play back on May 25 and eliminated Houston from the Open Cup on June 18 with a 3-2 result on the road.
The Loons have yet to win at BBVA Stadium in league play.
Michael Boxall surpassed Miguel Ibarra as the club's all-time minutes leader in MLS. The New Zealand international has played 5,997 minutes for the Loons, surpassing Ibarra's previous mark of 5,978. Ibarra has played 13,909 minutes since he joined the club in 2012.
Christian Ramirez played five seasons with Minnesota, starting in 2014 through 2018. He remains the club's all-time leading scorer with 74 goals in all competitions.
Joe Willis and Collin Martin were both in the D.C. United organization in 2013 and 2014. Both were loaned to the Richmond Kickers during the 2014 season.
Tyler Deric was coached by Adrian Heath while on loan with the Austin Aztex in 2009.
DaMarcus Beasley and MNUFC Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee were teammates on the Chicago Fire from 2001 to 2002.
Darwin Ceren and Kevin Molino were teammates on Orlando City SC from 2014 through 2016.
M - Darwin Quintero (general)
Los Angeles FC
D - AJ DeLaGarza (foot)
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