Minnesota United FC vs. Real Salt Lake Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - After almost a month and three straight MLS away games, Minnesota United returns to the welcoming walls of Allianz Field for a Western Conference showdown with Real Salt Lake, presented by SeatGeek. After turning in a disappointing performance on Wednesday night in a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, the Loons will hope to regroup and respond by grabbing a resounding three points that could take them back into pole position to host a home playoff game. Separated by just a single point, Real Salt Lake and Minnesota United have been at each other's throats, exchanging blows and repeatedly trading places in the Western Conference table. The two sides have already met once in 2019 when a close-range Darwin Quintero header was canceled out by a late Marcelo Silva goal to force a draw at the RioT. RSL enter Sunday's game coming off a one goal, clean sheet win over the San Jose Earthquakes in which a 75th minute Damir Kreilach header secured three points for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Both sides will understand the magnitude of the three points that are at stake, setting up Sunday afternoon to be an enthralling 90 minutes between RSL and MNUFC.
Kickoff is scheduled for 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.
In a game that was truly a tale of two halves, Minnesota United came out flat against the Houston Dynamo and were made to pay for their lackluster first half performance. Mauro Manotas played a key role in the two first half goals that Houston put in the back of the net, opening the scoring in the 37th minute and then assisting former Loon Christian Ramirez in the 44th minute. Upset with his side down two goals at the break, Head Coach Adrian Heath switched out of the 4-3-3 he had deployed to the more accustomed 4-2-3-1 formation. The change in formation and the addition of Robin Lod and Abu Danladi off the bench gave the Loons new life going forward but it was a case of too little too late.
"[The] energy levels have to be better," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "The individual performances, collective performances [have to be better]. There's not a lot of positives to take from the game in Houston I have to say and I thought we'd left them days behind us. Obviously, one reared its head again this weekend and that was a real disappointment for me because on the back of our previous league game [which] was away at LAFC where we gave arguably our best performance [of the season]. Everything that we put into that performance in LA was missing in Houston."
"You've got to start better on the road and we know that," added midfielder Ethan Finlay. "It was a disappointing night. Coming off a big three points in LA but when you start flat like we did, you put yourself in a hole on the road and it's very difficult to get out of."
Heath chose to stick Jan Gregus, Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye directly into the MNUFC starting XI even though the trio had just returned from international call-ups. Toye and Dotson - who had just participated in their first U.S. Men's National Team U23 camp - looked leggy in the first 45 minutes and were withdrawn by Adrian Heath at the interval. Ethan Finlay was one of the few Minnesotan bright spots on the night as he was lauded for his industrious work ethic up until the final whistle. Finlay had two great chances to get MNUFC back in the game late into the game when he had an effort cleared off the line and then a goal controversially disallowed after video review. Regardless of what refereeing decisions went for or against the Loons, they will be ready to erase the disappointment of losing in Houston and move on to Sunday's Western Conference showdown with RSL.
A lot has changed for Real Salt Lake since the two clubs drew 1-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 21. In similar fashion to the Houston Dynamo, the Claret-and-Cobalt terminated the contract of their Head Coach Mike Petke in early August after multiple reports of offensive conduct surfaced. Assistant Coach Freddy Juarez was subsequently named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2019 season and he hasn't looked back. When the sides previously met, RSL sat in sixth place narrowly above the playoff line but it has since begun to mount a late season playoff push and are now second place in the Western Conference. Having won three of their last five games - only losing to league-leading LAFC and the surging Portland Timbers on the road - the Claret-and-Cobalt enter Sunday night poised to hand the Loons just their second loss at Allianz Field in 2019 MLS play.
"They've got a bit of confidence from a few results," said Heath. "[Whether it's] Damir [Kreilach] or Jefferson Savarino, whether it be [Joao] Plata, whether it be [Albert] Rusnák, they've got really good attacking pieces. They've got experience where they need it in the likes of [Kyle] Beckerman and Everton [Luiz] in the middle of the park. Nick [Rimando's] had an incredible career in goal. It's going to be tough."
While RSL triumphed 1-0 over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night, it too was hit hard by its players returning from international call-ups less than a day before kickoff. Real Salt Lake had nine players feature for their respective national teams and like Adrian Heath's decision to include Dotson and Toye, Freddy Juarez chose to play Jefferson Savarino, Sebastian Saucedo, Brooks Lennon, Justin Glad and Aaron Hererra on short rest. Although Jan Gregus and Albert Rusnak both saw action in Slovakia's two UEFA Euro Qualifiers, Rusnak was not in RSL's squad against San Jose while Gregus played a full 90 minutes in Houston. Faced with yet another short turnaround before Sunday's game, both Heath and Juarez will have to take fatigue into account as they prepare for one of the most important team selections of the 2019 season.
"I think the individual performance for each player will be scrutinized by us and by the supporters because that wasn't what we've been accustomed to of late," said Heath. "Before the season started, would somebody have said [that with] five games left, three of which are at home, you'd be third or fourth in the Western Conference with a great opportunity of finishing in the playoffs, I think we would've taken that. But what we don't need to do now is waste that big result in LA. It's a game that if we approach it in the right manner, play like we can, we're more than capable of winning."
"When we play as a collective and as a group of guys that's working in unison, offensively and defensively, I think we are a difficult team [to beat] because of the talent that we have," said Finlay. "That's what I look forward to, just getting back to that mentality. It's easier at home with a crowd that can get you going, whether it be individually or collectively as the group. We have three points to get here at home and that's been important for us all season and that doesn't change."
Minnesota United's next game is a back on the road as the Loons travel to Providence Park to take on the Portland Timbers as the clubs meet for the third time this season. That game is on Sunday, September 22 and will start at 2:55 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 2:25 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 midfielder Ethan Finlay.
Head Coach Adrian Heath on how important that reaction from the players is come Sunday... "I think the individual performance for each player will be scrutinized by us and by the supporters because that wasn't what we've been accustomed to of late. But we're going to have to have a collective reaction to that result. We've put ourselves in a really good spot. Before the season started, would somebody have said [that with] five games left, three of which are at home, you'd be third or fourth in the Western Conference with a great opportunity of finishing in the playoffs, I think we would've taken that. But what we don't need to do now is waste that really big result in LA. We have to capitalize on [the fact that] two of these next three games are at home and they are going to be huge for us."
Adrian Heath on just how important home games are now at Allianz Field... "They're always important but if you look at the teams that we are playing, they're all in and around us as well. The next one is [Sporting] Kansas [City] who are still fighting for a spot [in the playoffs]. They've had a really good run of late so it's not going to get any easier but let's concentrate on Salt Lake and we've done well in terms of results but they've all been really tight and I don't think anything is going to be changing on Sunday."
Midfielder Ethan Finlay on how MNUFC will look to take advantage of RSL... "I think we just have to get back to what we do. It's being in a great shape defensively. A lot of our results, home and away, have been a great block of four - two blocks of four behind the ball with the front two doing a really good job of showing us where to go. That's first and foremost and then from there, from the attacking side is just getting our players on the ball in dangerous positions. Better crosses, getting our guys into pockets, whether it be our eight, the ten or the wide midfielders, we've got to get these guys in good positions and facing forward. It's extremely important that we get back to doing that. I don't think we've been short on chances recently. We're deep when it comes to the offensive positions so I think we feel good about that but it's about us going out there and dictating the game. First and foremost, it starts defensively."
Ethan Finlay on how a team can turn a game around after starting flat... "Every individual has to take ownership of their own performance but we have a very talented group of players, individually but we're the best when we play as a collective. First and foremost, we don't win games as individuals. I think we've proven that when we have great individual performances but the team doesn't quite come out great and doesn't play as a group but we struggle. We don't get results [when that happens]. When we play as a collective and as a group of guys that's working in unison, offensively and defensively, I think we are a really difficult team [to beat] because of the talent that we have. That's what I look forward to, just getting back to that mentality. It's easier at home with a crowd that can get you going, whether it be individually or collectively as the group. I think you've got to be able to do that. We were able to do it at LAFC in an away environment so we know we can do it on the road. But you've got to bring it every day in this league. You can't take a day off especially with where the table is right now. We put ourselves in a good position and now it's about finishing the job. We have three points to get here at home and that's been important for us all season and that doesn't change."
Chase Gasper will serve a one-game suspension for this game after reaching the yellow card accumulation limit against Houston on Wednesday.
The Loons are undefeated in their last seven home games.
Mason Toye and Hassani Dotson recently returned from the U.S. U23 national team camp. The duo played in a closed-door friendly against Japan, with Toye scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 win.
Minnesota is the third-least fouled team in MLS, suffering just 293 fouls during the season.
The Loons have yet to play with a man advantage in league play in 2019, with no opposing players being ejected.
Real Salt Lake has been caught offside 76 times this season, the most in MLS. The Loons have the seventh-fewest offside calls at 45.
MNUFC have scored three or more goals eight times this year, the fourth-most in the league.
The Loons have scored on 11.8% of shots taken.
Vito Mannone's club record 10 shutouts is tied for the second most in MLS.
Jan Gregus is two corner kicks away from tying Darwin Quintero's club career record of 111.
Gregus is also one assist from becoming the fourth MNUFC player to provide at least 10 assists in MLS.
Eight of Minnesota's nine goals against RSL have come in the second half.
RSL Goalkeeper Nick Rimando has made an MLS record 510 appearances and played 45,976 minutes. He also holds the career records in all goalkeeping stats categories, including most wins with 221 and shutouts with 153.
RSL's last road win came on August 10 against Sporting Kansas City.
Four of the Loons' next five games are against teams currently above the playoff line.
Darwin Quintero leads the all-time series between the teams with three assists.
Thomás Chacón made his first MLS start on Wednesday against Houston Dynamo.
Despite being second on the team in assists with six this season, Romain Metanire has not gotten a point since the June 2 game against Philadelphia Union.
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.
Real Salt Lake
M - Jordan Allen (knee)
D - Tony Beltran (knee)
M - Nick Besler (foot)
M - Luke Mulholland (hamstring)
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