Minnesota United FC vs. Sporting Kansas City Preview
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
CHILDREN'S MERCY PARK | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
8.22.19 | MLS Week 25 | MLS Game No. 27
8:30 p.m. CT (ESPN / MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MIN: 12-8-6; 4-7-1 on the road
SKC: 8-11-7; 5-5-3 at home
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - After a frustrating point at home in a 1-1 draw against Orlando City SC, Minnesota United embarks on a stretch of three successive away games as it looks to cement its place in the 2019 MLS Playoffs. First on the docket is a visit to Sporting Kansas City, who sit in 10th place in the Western Conference - six points from the foreboding playoff line. Since 2017, The Loons have failed to take any points from Children's Mercy Park in their four attempts (0-0-4) and have been outscored 13-1 at the home of the Blue Hell. The two sides met once previously this season when MNUFC downed SKC 4-1 in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The victory was the start of Minnesota's 11 game unbeaten streak in which the Loons scored 31 times across all competitions. Head Coach Adrian Heath will hope that a similar result will jumpstart a Minnesota United attack that has struggled to find a definitive end-product in recent play.
The game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN, streaming in the ESPN app and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. You can also follow along with timely game updates on Twitter by following @MNUFCMatch.
After taking a total of 22 shots and dominating much of the play throughout Saturday's 90 minutes, Minnesota United still needed an Abu Danladi goal deep into stoppage time to share the points with Orlando. As the final whistle blew, one could feel a heavy sense of frustration among Minnesota United fans. While the Loons haven't lost in their last four MLS games at Allianz Field (2-0-2), the ruthlessness they had previously exhibited in the attacking third wasn't on display. Even Heath felt that while his side controlled Saturday's game, they left a lot to be desired through their finishing and attacking prowess.
"When you dominate the game as much as we did, certainly in the first half, put as many crosses in as we did, final third entries, good opportunities [should come]," said Heath. "A bit disappointed that it's still nil-nil at halftime and we've done more than enough to go in ahead. That's been one of the issues for us as of late. I don't think we've been clinical enough or found that final ball in the final third but we are creating which is an important thing."
One of the contributing factors to this could be the strong reputation Minnesota United has fostered inside the confines of Allianz Field. Losing just once at home in 2019 MLS play, teams have started to visit and deploy more defensive game plans, forcing Minnesota United to try to break them down - a tough task against resolute, organized defenses. Becoming compact at the back does concede a lot of open space for Minnesota United to attack into, especially out wide. Midfielder Jan Gregus is especially aware of the open space as he has proven himself to be one of the main distributors in the Minnesota midfield. He looks to spray early passes out wide to his fullbacks - Chase Gasper and Romain Metanire - who love to bomb up and down their respective flanks and send cross after cross into the opposing team's penalty area.
"We need to be more effective [in the attack]," said Gregus. "Basically, trying to do more situations [that create] one-on-ones in the wide areas and being more decisive, have more killer instinct in front of goal. I think that's the only thing that we maybe lacked last game."
The width has been there, as evidenced by the countless number of crosses sent into the penalty area by Gasper and Metanire in the last two games against Colorado and Orlando. On the other hand, connecting and finishing the provided service or final ball needs to be improved.
Thursday's game against Sporting Kansas City will provide Minnesota United just this opportunity. SKC have been woefully inconsistent throughout the 2019 MLS Season as they have pulled off impressive results such as a recent 3-2 away win at Century Link Field in Seattle but have then turned around and dropped points that they are expected to take at home. Fellow Western Conference opponents Vancouver Whitecaps FC, LA Galaxy, LAFC, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have all taken points from SKC in their travels to Kansas City. Heath is of course aware of the struggles Sporting KC has faced this season but he remained cautious as he knew his side would have to turn in a solid performance to take three points away from home.
"It's the first time that I can remember since I've been here that it might have gone a bit different than they would've liked," said Heath. "This is a team that looks like it's evolving. This team has been able to pick itself virtually for - it seems like for an eternity. Now it looks different. I was looking at the roster and the team again this morning. [They made] three or four changes from a few weeks ago. Maybe taking their time to bed in but they had a big win on Saturday against San Jose. We know how difficult they will be."
With just eight MLS games left in Minnesota United's 2019 regular season, the countdown towards Decision Day has officially begun. The Loons will play five of their last eight games on the road, so away form will be crucial as they look to make the playoffs for the first time in club history. A win this Thursday against a Sporting KC side who hasn't been a part of the playoff discussion can begin to create some separation between Minnesota United - who sit second place in the West - and the teams that closely circle behind. While only six points separate SKC from the playoff line, the home side will know that taking full points from a game like this will launch them back into serious playoff contention.
"It's at that stage now, for them, where probably every home game is going to be really, really crucial," said Heath. "We know what's coming. You know my feelings about Peter [Vermes] and his staff and that club. [I've] got a tremendous amount of respect for them all. We know it's going to be difficult. We've had a tough time of it there over the last two or three years so we'll need to play a lot better than we have done to get a result."
"Every game we play against whatever team [is different]," added Gregus. "We still need to play our football and be active. I think it's going to be more about us, about our work ethic. We feel ready and we feel prepared. That's the only game that we are looking forward to right now."
Preview interviews with Head Coach Adrian Heath and midfielder Jan Gregus.
Head Coach Adrian Heath on what Abu Danladi's goal will do for him moving forward... "Well, confidence. I think the fact that he's come through - now he's had two or three weeks of really hard, solid training. Abu [Danladi's] problem has been durability, keeping him fit for long periods of time to get that sharpness back. He's getting a bit more confidence in himself, getting a bit more confidence in his body. I know what playing up front is like. There's nothing like scoring a goal for confidence. He'll benefit from that, [for] sure."
Adrian Heath on what has gone wrong for Sporting KC this year... "It's the first time that I can remember since I've been here that it might have gone a bit different than they would've liked. This is a team that looks like it's evolving. This team has been able to pick itself virtually for - it seems like for an eternity. Now it looks different. I was looking at the roster and the team again this morning. [They made] three or four changes from a few weeks ago. Maybe [they're] taking their time to bed in but they had a big win on Saturday against San Jose. We know how difficult they will be. It's at that stage now, for them, where probably every home game is going to be really, really crucial. We know what's coming. You know my feelings about Peter [Vermes] and his staff and that club. [I've] got a tremendous amount of respect for them all. We know it's going to be difficult. We've had a tough time of it there over the last two or three years so we'll need to play a lot better than we have done to get a result."
Midfielder Jan Gregus on what scoring late goals means about the spirit and mentality of the team... "Well, it says just one thing. That we go until it's over. There's nothing like 90 minutes. We still play on [even in] extra time, until the referee whistles that's it's the end. It shows a lot of hard work and also the mentality that we want to win every time."
Jan Gregus on what he expects to see from Sporting KC on Thursday... "We know the team and we know how they play. Like always, like every game, we need to be careful of their strong [aspects]. We still need to play our football and be active. I think it's going to be more about us, our work ethic and everything like that."
This will be the 11th meeting in all competitions between these teams since 2014.
Mason Toye returns the squad after serving a two-game suspension.
Abu Danladi scored his second goal of the season last week against Orlando City SC. The stoppage-time strike secured a draw at home for MNUFC.
Danladi's goal was the first off a throw-in for MNUFC this season.
MNUFC has yet to win a game at Children's Mercy Park.
Darwin Quintero scored two goals against SKC in the Open Cup game on June 12.
The Open Cup win was the first time the Loons have triumphed against Sporting KC since 2018.
Danladi scored a goal and provided his first assist in MLS play against Sporting KC on May 7, 2017.
This will be Ike Opara's first game at Children's Mercy Park since coming to MNUFC from SKC.
The Loons are 4-7-1 on the road this year.
With last week's 1-1 draw, MNUFC has equaled its most draws in a season set back in 2017.
Vito Mannone is tied for second in the league with nine shutouts.
MNUFC has scored multiple goals against SKC just once in league play.
Jan Gregus has taken 100 corner kicks this season. He is just one of five players to reach triple digits.
Felipe Gutierrez has committed 48 fouls, tying him for the third-most in MLS.
Gutierrez has scored multiple goals in three games. He is one of seven players who have achieved that in more that two games.
Roger Espinoza is one of two players in MLS with two red cards this year.
Krisztian Nemeth and Johnny Russell have both scored hat tricks in 2019.
Sporting KC and LAFC are the only teams to have multiple players score hat tricks this season.
Gerso Fernandes has provided three game-winning assists this season.
Ike Opara spent six seasons with Sporting Kansas City, representing the club from 2013 through 2018. He made 127 regular season appearances for SKC, scoring 13 goals and providing five assists.
Lawrence Olum played for Sporting KC from 2011 through 2014 and rejoined the team in 2016. He took the field 87 times for the club with five goals and three assists to his credit.
Ethan Finlay, Brent Kallman and Seth Sinovic were teammates at Creighton University in 2009.
Sinovic later played with Bobby Shuttleworth from 2010 to 2011 with New England Revolution.
Peter Vermes and Manny Lagos were teammates on the New York/New Jersey MetroStars for the inaugural MLS season in 1996. Lagos played the 1997 season on the MetroStars with current Sporting KC Assistant Coach Kerry Zavagnin.
Benny Feilhaber played the 2011 and 2012 seasons with Bobby Shuttleworth as a member of the Revs.
Graham Smith and Hassani Dotson both played for Oregon State in 2015.
M - Osvaldo Alonso (Leg)
F - Angelo Rodriguez (leg)
M - Kevin Molino (leg)
Sporting Kansas City
D - Rodney Wallace (hip)
GK - Adrian Zendejas (back)
D - Botond Barath (back)
F - Krisztian Nemeth (abdominal)
Q - Gersoo Gernandes (ankle)
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