GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - With barely a moment to catch their breath since Wednesday night's goalless draw against the LA Galaxy, Minnesota United has to turn around and get ready to host D.C. United this Sunday, April 28 at Allianz Field. Dogged by individual errors that led to conceding seven goals against NYCFC and Toronto FC, the Loons' defense was compact and capable against Los Angeles, and the offense looked more than likely, but was denied on the goal line a few times.
The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. CT with coverage beginning at 12:00 p.m. on FS1, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Wednesday marked the return of midfielder Kevin Molino to the starting lineup for the first time since an ACL tear ended his 2018 season prematurely. Both he and Abu Danladi - who started out wide on the right side - show serious promise going forward but also both had to shake off some nerves early, as did the midfield pairing of Osvaldo Alonso and Rasmus Schuller, who stepped in for the suspended Jan Gregus.
"I thought the first 10 minutes [against LA], we didn't get a grip of their shape very well," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "But once we started to work it out in wide areas, I thought we didn't have an awful lot of problems. I want us to pick that momentum up. I think the great thing for us is that the crowd stayed with us to the very end because we kept the crowd involved in the game. The one thing the stadium has proved, there's a great deal of noise in there and we want to get a win."
The backline was buoyed by the return of defender Ike Opara, who sat out against Toronto FC after going down with a head injury in the home opener. Against the Galaxy, he was a force at the back and the front, organizing the backline and earning two of the best chances on goal off of headers from corner kicks that were barely blocked in front of goal. In the opening minutes against the Galaxy, he shepherded defenders up and back with his arms outstretched, yelling for everyone to keep in line.
"[It makes] it easier - especially for the guys ahead of us - if we're able to keep a smart high line at times," he said. "If we have to drop the line, we drop the line, but trying to be on the same page. That's where we gain the trust as a unit and it allows us to put people in good positions. I think the guys trusted me in that role and it's not easy, especially when a stadium's loud, having to bark orders. It's a little bit more draining, but it's what we need and I'm going to do whatever it takes to win here."
It will undoubtedly take a lot against a D.C. United side that sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with an undefeated road record. Boasting not only Wayne Rooney up top, but a host of dangerous attacking midfielders, D.C. United has a deadly attack and a defense that's only allowed only nine goals this season.
"We know [D.C. United] is a good team," said Heath. "We know they've got really good attacking pieces with Wayne and [Luciano] Acosta and now [Lucas] Rodriguez and [Paul] Arriola's playing really well, so their front four are very good. We have to defend well, be nice and compact, don't get too stretched out, not give them too much room. If we do that, I think we have more than enough going forward to create opportunities against what they will play."
Responsibility for keeping the defense together will fall squarely on Opara's shoulders again, and only days after tussling with Ibrahimovic, he and his compatriots will now have to tangle with another of the world's best in Rooney.
"Both are different players at this point in their careers," he said. "Zlatan's dangerous - we could go all day: 500+ goals for a reason, so good for him. But Rooney is a smart player in terms of trying to create chances whereas Zlatan likes to stay high. Rooney's kind of all over the field. He's a creator and a distributor, he's a finisher."
With two draws in two games so far, Minnesota United's start in Allianz Field hasn't been a disappointment on the field per se, but with fans hungry for the chance to finally sing "Wonderwall" in their new home, much will be riding on the outcome of Sunday's game.
The Loons will close out their three-game homestand next week with a game against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, May 4 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Pregame coverage begins 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:
Head Coach Adrian Heath on the result against LA Galaxy... "The morale of the team is good. We've watched a lot of tape and there's a lot of really good things the other night and basically what I thought after the game is what I think now: If we'd have taken our chances - we had the best chances - the game was there for us. But there's been a lot of positives in the last two games."
Adrian Heath on the upcoming game vs. DC United... "We know [D.C. United] is a good team, we know they've got really good attacking pieces with Wayne and Acosta and now Rodriguez and Arriola's playing really well, so their front four are very good. We have to defend well, be nice and compact, don't get too stretched out, not give them too much room. If we do that, I think we have more than enough going forward to create opportunities against what they will play."
Defender Ike Opara on keeping a clean sheet against LA Galaxy... "I think [the clean sheet] was important, not just for myself but for everyone who was out there. After the last couple games and the goals that we gave up, we needed to gain some kind of stability and confidence back there again as a unit and I think this past Wednesday was a good start to hopefully build off of."
Ike Opara on Zaltan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney... "Both [Ibrahimovic and Rooney] are different players at this point in their careers. Zlatan's dangerous - we could go all day: 500+ goals for a reason, so good for him. But Rooney is a smart player in terms of trying to create chances whereas Zlatan likes to stay high. Rooney's kind of all over the field. He's a creator and a distributor, he's a finisher. He's going to be a challenge for all of us to be aware of his skillset because they've got some danger with Acosta and Arriola and some of these other guys. We have to keep our minds on what he's doing in the game. I think Zlatan wants to score goals and he wants to create memorable moments and Rooney, he's going to do more of the dirty work to get his team into the game and win games. That in itself is a challenge especially with his skillset, especially with the work he puts in each and every game and his intelligence."
Angelo Rodriguez scored his first MLS goal against D.C.
Minnesota set a club record for largest margin of victory in MLS in its first meeting with D.C. United. The Loons won 4-0 back in 2017, and is still tied for the club record with the 5-1 win over LAFC in 2018.
Darwin Quintero set a new club career record last game, with 99 shots taken in MLS play. He surpassed Christian Ramirez's total of 96.
MNUFC earned a clean sheet at home on Wednesday against LA Galaxy. It was the first home clean sheet for the Loons since May 20, 2018.
The shutout was Vito Mannone's second of the season.
Mannone's 27 saves is the fifth-most in the league.
D.C.'s Bill Hamid leads MLS with five shutouts this season.
This is Minnesota's first Sunday game of the season.
Mannone, Osvaldo Alonso and Romain Metanire are the only MNUFC players who have played every minute this season.
The Loons tied a team single-game record last time out against the Galaxy, taking 13 corner kicks on Wednesday night. They last reached that mark on June 28, 2018 against FC Dallas.
Quintero set the new individual single-game corner kick record by taking all 13 for MNUFC on Wednesday.
Francisco Calvo and Jan Gregus return to the squad after serving a one-game suspension last game. Both players were ejected from the April 19 game against Toronto FC.
Wayne Rooney and Quintero are tied for the fourth-most goals in MLS with five so far this season.
Rooney is one of four players who have scored a hat trick in 2019.
Luciano Acosta and Alonso are among the most fouled players in the league, suffering 22 and 21 fouls respectively.
The Loons' 17 goals is tied for the third-most in MLS.
Last game was the first time Minnesota failed to score in its last 10 games.
MNUFC has the third-best scoring rate in the league, finding the back of the net on 16.5% of its shots.
Abu Danladi will make his 50th MLS appearance the next time he takes the field for MNUFC.
MNUFC midfielder Collin Martin was traded from D.C. to Minnesota in exchange for a 2018 SuperDraft pick in January 2017. He first joined MLS as a homegrown signing for D.C. in July 2013 and was with United through 2016.
Jalen Robinson and Martin were teammates at Wake Forest in 2012.
MNUFC Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee was on the D.C. United coaching staff from 2014 to 2016.
MNUFC Assistant Coach Mark Watson played 11 matches for D.C. United during the 2001 season.
MNUFC midfielder Miguel Ibarra and D.C. defender Steven Birnbaum played for Orange County Blue Star in 2011.
Chris Odoi-Atsem and Dayne St. Clair were teammates at the University of Maryland in 2015 and 2016.
Donovan Pines and St. Clair played for Maryland in 2016 and 2017. They were joined by Chase Gasper in 2018.
Joseph Mora, Ulises Segura and Francisco Calvo were teammates on Saprissa in 2016. All three are members of the Costa Rica national team.
Oniel Fisher and Osvaldo Alonso played three seasons together on Seattle Sounders FC from 2015 to 2017.
Quincy Amerikwa and Ike Opara played the 2010 season with the San Jose Earthquakes.
D - Chase Gasper (Hamstring)
D - Oniel Fisher (knee surgery 10/3)
D - Chris Odoi-Atsem (Hodgkin's Lymphoma)
M - Antonio Bustamante (knee injury)
D - Joseph Mora (broken jaw 3/31, out 4 weeks)
D - Chris McCann (hamstring injury)
D - Leonardo Jara (shoulder injury)
MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. DC UNITED
ALLIANZ FIELD | SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
4.28.19 | MLS Week 9 | MLS Game No. 9
12:30 p.m. CT (FS1 / MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MIN: 3-3-2; 0-0-2 at home
DC: 5-2-2; 3-0-1 on the road
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