Minnesota United FC vs. Sporting Kansas City MLS Is Back Preview
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Minnesota United comes into the MLS Is Back Tournament with the most goals in MLS at eight and sitting in second place in the Western Conference. The bad news? The Loons' first opponent after a four-month break is the team ahead of them on goal differential, Sporting Kansas City. Last season, MNUFC punched its ticket to the playoffs by defeating SKC on a Hassani Dotson goal in the 90th minute, and both teams spent the offseason working to add teeth to their offenses. For MNUFC - who managed just 10 goals across the final 11 games of the 2019 regular season - the biggest change was the acquisition of forward Luis Amarilla, who's already notched two goals in two games. But the contributions have come from all over the field with midfielder Kevin Molino and defender Ike Opara each putting in two of their own and goals from Jan Gregus and Robin Lod as well. The biggest opponent coming into this first game of the tournament, though, is likely the long layoff since the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This game - and the tournament overall - likely comes down to which team can hit its stride quickest and with consistency.
HEATH ON PLAYING IN FLORIDA
"The one thing I think that people at home probably won't grasp is how hot and humid it is down here. I lived down here for six and a half years, so I know what Florida is. But trust me, you never get used to 9:00 p.m. at night it being 90 degrees and the humidity being off the charts. So, there's a lot of mental sort of aspects that come into this. There's a famous saying that the heat makes cowards of us all. And it does. But it's going to be the same for the other team. We have to get through this. And you can't use the weather and the humidity as an excuse. Ultimately, the pitch is going to be the same size, the goals are the same size and it's 11 v 11. On the day, it'll be the ones that I think take the chances. I think the first goal down here is going to be huge. We played a scrimmage the other day. You go 1-0 down after 30 seconds, then you have to start chasing the game. Then you're putting even more exertion onto the body because you're forcing the game." FULL QUOTE SHEET HERE
Under Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City has been a model of small-market efficiency. Consistently running the 4-3-3 with fullbacks pressing up the field and interchanging with wingers, SKC has been known for smothering defense and pinpoint attacking.
With an aging defensive line and a massive investment to the tune of a $9.5 million transfer fee for Mexican star striker Alan Pulido, Sporting will likely look more dangerous up front with Pulido combining with Johnny Russell and Gerso Fernandes on the wings.
In the back, they will rely on new signing Roberto Puncec to hold it down with longtime SKC centerback Matt Besler.
Sporting ripped up both Vancouver and Houston back in the first two games of the season and will aim to recapture that magic.
Since joining MLS in 2017, Minnesota United's leadership has never been shy about saying how they look at Sporting Kansas City as a model of how to run a team in a small market in America's heartland.
Taking into account their shared history beyond MLS, the Loons' neighbors down I-35 have traditionally gotten the better of them, but within MLS, it's generally been the home team that's come out on top.
With MNUFC making the playoffs last season and looking to inch up the standings from their fourth place finish and SKC aiming to bounce back after missing the postseason for the first time in eight years, the Nicest Rivalry in Sports might be about to evolve into something more genuine.
FIRST TOUCHES: Aaron Schoenfeld played against SKC's Gadi Kinda for five minutes in the Israeli Premier League when Schoenfeld's Maccabi Tel Aviv faced Kinda's FC Ashdod on December 2, 2017. Schoenfeld came on in the 77th minute while Kinda was subbed off in the 83rd minute of a 1-1 draw. [READ MORE]
Opara - undisclosed
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
ESPN WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS | ORLANDO, FLORIDA
07.12.20 | MLS is Back Tournament presented by Heineken | Group Stage Game No. 1
7:00 p.m. CT (ESPN /MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
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Major League Soccer Stories from July 11, 2020
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- Real Salt Lake Opens MLS Is Back Tournament Sunday against Colorado - Real Salt Lake
- Morgan: "We'Ve Got Enough Talent and Enough Desire to WinÃ¢ÂÂ - Inter Miami CF
- Minnesota United FC vs. Sporting Kansas City MLS Is Back Preview - Minnesota United FC
- Sounders FC Opens MLS Is Back Tournament with Scoreless Draw against San Jose Earthquakes - Seattle Sounders FC
- Quakes earn point against defending MLS Cup champions - San Jose Earthquakes
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