Minnesota United FC vs. Real Salt Lake Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - In a matchup between two of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, Minnesota United travels to Sandy, Utah, to do battle with Real Salt Lake. A last-gasp goal from Mason Toye and a club-record-setting penalty kick save from Vito Mannone deep into stoppage time earned the Loons a 1-0 home win over FC Dallas last Saturday. The Loons head into this weekend looking to extend their seven-game winning streak in all competitions - the longest in club history - while RSL has won three of their last four games in MLS play. The Claret-and-Cobalt currently sit in sixth place with 29 points and are positioned just above the playoff line. A win on Saturday for the Loons would extend their lead in the table over RSL to seven points and would create some more separation in a Western Conference playoff race that will likely come down to the wire. In their short history, the Loons have yet to win in their travels to Rio Tinto Stadium (0-1-1) but Head Coach Adrian Heath will hope that his new-look Minnesota United can flip the script and take three points come Saturday.
The game kicks off at 9:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Facing the demanding test of five games in 19 days - a game every three and a half days - Heath's side passed with flying colors. Winning all five games, scoring 20 goals and conceding only five, MNUFC saw some of their stars hit terrific form, including a rotated squad that traveled to Montreal and took all three points in a gutsy road win.
Mason Toye emerged as one of the main talking points of the busy July spell, scoring four goals, including two game-winners. None though, were as significant as his winning strike in the 91st minute against FC Dallas. The young forward followed up on Jan Gregus' parried low shot from distance and buried it to give the Loons a dramatic late lead. After sitting on the back foot for much of the game, the goal allowed Allianz Field to breathe a collective sigh of relief - but only half a breath. Minutes later, to the dismay of the Minnesota faithful, a miscommunication between Chase Gasper and Vito Mannone led to an FC Dallas penalty kick with seconds left on the clock. In what seemed to be fate, Mannone stepped up to the challenge and denied Dallas' captain Reto Ziegler from the spot. The save held for an MNUFC win and gave Mannone six shutouts on the year - the most from a goalkeeper in a single season for Minnesota United.
"I've said that relationship between the supporters and the players is getting stronger by the game," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "In hindsight, it couldn't have worked out better giving us the penalty and everybody being deflated and then Vito saving it. The noise, then, just exploded. It was incredible. I thanked the crowd after the game on Saturday but they've helped us the last couple games because as I said, these guys have been running on empty a bit last week so it was a big win for us."
The final whistle sparked a boisterous reaction from Allianz Field as Heath remarked that he has "never heard the stadium as loud as this - ever." Dropping only one game at Allianz Field all year, the Loons are beginning to create an identity as a team that can not only score quality goals but solid defensively and driven by the never-ending support of their fans. Taking 12 out of their last 12 points in MLS, the Loons are now putting real pressure on the likes of Seattle and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who sit just above Minnesota. In what has become a dogfight in the Western Conference, the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth place teams are all separated by just six points heading into MLS Week 20.
"Every week is a [cup] final," said Mannone. "We won seven [in a row], four in MLS play [and] it looks like nothing changes. All the rest of the teams are keeping the pace and fighting for their lives as we do [too]. So, why not go out there and gain another three points? It's as easy as that. It's a dogfight and we will fight until the end to earn the respect that I think we deserve right now."
Saturday's game against Real Salt Lake - who have begun to heat up ahead of the impending playoff race - has shaped up to be another six-pointer. The Claret-and-Cobalt come off a 4-0 thrashing of Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union, a result that wasn't expected by many. Jefferson Savarino - making his return from International duty with Venezuela in the Copa America - was phenomenal for RSL. The Venezuelan scored two scintillating goals and tacked on a crafty back heel assist, just for good measure. Come Saturday, Savarino will be a dangerous customer for the Loons. Full of confidence, the Venezuelan can hurt you in many ways. While he often looks to make dynamic runs in behind, Savarino can run and dribble with pace directly at you and take blistering, accurate shots on target from distance. His speed and skill will be a main concern for the Minnesota defense - which Heath was cautious of.
"Attacking-wise at home, [they've] been very, very strong. [Jefferson] Savarino is in great form at this moment in time," said Heath. "[Damir] Kreilach is just big and strong. [Albert] Rusnak is probably one of the better 10's in the league. [Sebastian] Saucedo has come in and he's been fantastic. For them, the last few weeks - four-nil against the Eastern Conference leaders - it sets them up nicely."
Similar to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Rio Tinto Stadium is at an altitude of 4,500 feet - just 700 feet lower than where the Rapids play. The Loons made the trek to Colorado earlier in the year - losing 1-0 - so Saturday's test at similar elevation will present a challenge that the Loons are all too familiar with.
"It was [a] different experience but I'm glad that I've done it so I'm used to it.," said Mannone when asked about the altitude being a problem in Colorado. "The ball was really moving in Colorado, that's one thing [that] I really noticed from a goalkeeping perspective. It was gaining three or four yards, every shot, cross or kick and the ball was moving in the air. It's a long 90 minutes and the other team is supposedly more prepared than you but we've been quite prepared with this heat, to be honest so we've got that already."
While RSL will come into Saturday's showdown full of confidence, looking at some of their recent defensive efforts reveals a key weakness. Eight of the last 11 goals that the Claret-and-Cobalt have conceded have come directly from or because of a cross, a corner kick or an early ball into the RSL penalty area from out wide. Minnesota United have crossed the ball 255 times in 2019, which is the fifth most in all of MLS. Generating much of their dangerous attacking play through overlapping fullbacks Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper, the Loons will look to exploit this weakness by attacking out wide in what will prove to be a vital game for both sides.
"We know it's going to be tough, it always is at Salt Lake," said Heath. "We've proven the last few weeks that we are a match for anybody. I expect us to be disciplined, hardworking, well-organized and can we take our chances when they come because we will create chances. If we do, we've got a good chance at keeping this run alive."
Minnesota United's next game is a back at Allianz Field against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, July 27, presented by Star Tribune. The game will start at 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.
Links to MNUFC training soundbytes, match notes and media guide are listed below, plus noteworthy first touches and an updated injury report:
Preview interviews with Head Coach Adrian Heath and goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Head Coach Adrian Heath on what he's seen from Salt Lake this season ..."Attacking-wise at home, [they've] been very, very strong. [Jefferson] Savarino is in great form at this moment in time. [Damir] Kreilach is just big and strong. [Albert] Rusnak is probably one of the better 10's in the league. [Sebastian] Saucedo has come in and he's been fantastic. For them, the last few weeks - four-nil against the Eastern Conference leaders - it sets them up nicely. They'll know how important this game is."
Adrian Heath on what he expects from his players at RSL ..."A fully committed performance. I expect us to be disciplined, hard working, well organizing and can we take our chances when they come because we will create chances. If we do, we've got a good chance at keeping this run alive."
Goalkeeper Vito Mannone on how big it was to get three points from a game that was even up until the last minute ... "I felt it was a game [that] we needed to stay in as much as possible. I had the feeling, as the manager said before the game, halftime and throughout the game that the legs were tired and we play so many games. The cup has been tough for us, took our energy away. The traveling, Houston, Montreal, it's difficult. We play every three days and it's difficult for the youngest [guys]. Imagine [how it is] for people with a little bit of age. It's tough. We had to stay in the game [and] I thought that we did brilliantly. We defended well, we kept them out and tried to sue our only power going forward, trying to create something. To score in the 91st especially, is important because it's really the last push. After we kept them out, we knew it was a nil-nil and the manager made three changes, fresh legs and the guys who came on were brilliant as usual and then we pushed for the winner. Once it happened, you think it's over, it's not. We went to [the] 98th minute and the last moment is something magical and something that sticks with the fans, sticks with the players and myself too."
Vito Mannone on how big getting a result against Salt Lake is given the dogfight in the West... "I think it's massive. It looks like, as you said, every week is a final. We won seven [in a row], four in MLS play [and] it looks like nothing changes. All the rest of the teams are keeping the pace and fighting for their lives as we do [too]. So, why not go out there and gain another three points? It's as easy as that. It's a dogfight and we will fight until the end to earn the respect that I think we deserve right now. We've done an excellent job. On the next unfinished job, you do nothing with it [but] we need to carry on and finish the job. It's a big push and hopefully the team will go for it."
Vito Mannone set a new club record on Saturday against FC Dallas, keeping his sixth clean sheet of the season. He also holds the record for the most wins in a season with 13 in all competitions.
Mannone saved a stoppage time penalty to seal the victory for MNUFC. It was the club's first penalty save since September 23, 2017 when Bobby Shuttleworth denied FC Dallas' Michael Barrios.
Mannone is tied for the third-most wins in the league with 10, and his 66 saves are the third-highest total in the league.
Mason Toye scored his second game-winning goal of the year against FC Dallas. He now has four goals and two assists in his last four league appearances.
Toye leads the league with an average of 2.07 goals scored per 90 minutes played and a 66.7% scoring rate.
The Loons have scored 37 goals so far in MLS play, placing them third in the league behind Philadelphia Union and LAFC.
Minnesota has scored at least three goals in a game seven times in MLS, the second-most behind LAFC.
On Tuesday, MNUFC signed Finland international midfielder Robin Lod. Lod joins the Loons after playing the 2018-19 season with Spain's Sporting Gijon.
Darwin Quintero leads the all-time series against RSL with three assists in two games.
Osvaldo Alonso (1G/3A), Ethan Finlay (2G/1A), Miguel Ibarra (2G), Kevin Molino (1G/2A), Ike Opara (4G) and Quintero (1G/3A) all have career points against Real Salt Lake.
Romain Metanire returns to the Loons after representing Madagascar at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. It was the country's first time qualifying for the tournament. Metanire's squad won their group and reached the Quarterfinals before being eliminated by Tunisia. Metanire had an assist in the dramatic Round of 16 clash against the DR Congo that ended in penalties.
Ike Opara and Vito Mannone made the MLS Team of the Week for their efforts in Week 19. Opara made his club-record fifth appearance of the season, tying Quintero in 2018.
This will be Minnesota's fourth consecutive game against a team sitting in a playoff position.
Last game against Dallas was the first game MNUFC failed to score at least three goals since June 8.
The Loons have won seven consecutive games in all competitions, scoring 27 goals and allowing eight.
Luke Mulholland played for Minnesota United during the NASL era of the club's history. He joined the team late in 2011, helping it to the 2011 NASL Championship.
Miguel Ibarra, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando have played together on the U.S. national team. Rimando has tended goal in all three of Ibarra's appearances, starting on October 14, 2014 against Honduras. They then took the field together on February 8, 2015 against Panama, followed by a match against Mexico on April 15, 2015 where they were joined by Beckerman.
Abu Danladi, Tony Beltran, Erik Holt and Rimando all played college soccer for UCLA.
Holt and Danladi were teammates on the Bruins' roster in 2105 and 2016.
Danny Toia and Eric Miller were teammates on Montreal Impact in 2015.
M - Osvaldo Alonso (sholder)
F - Angelo Rodriguez (ankle)
Real Salt Lake
M - Jordan Allen (knee)
D - Nedum Omuoha (adductor)
F - Sam Johnson (quad)
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