Loons Face Tough Test As They Look To Keep Toluca In Check


Minnesota United FC vs. Toluca FC

Allianz Field | St Paul, Minnesota

08.08.2023 | Leagues Cup | Round of 16

7 p.m. CT (AppleTV - MLS Season Pass, UniMás, FS1)

Hello, fellow waterfowl enthusiasts! I hope this game preview finds you doing well and riding high off this weekend’s outstanding, hard-fought 3-3 draw in regulation, that ultimately led to a 4-3 Penalty Kick win over Columbus. We were up, we were down. But, most importantly, we stood toe-to-toe with a formidable opponent, in their house, and came out on the winning side in spite of great adversity. And yes, Bongokuhle Freaking Hlongwane continues to be an absolute problem for every opponent MNUFC has come across in Leagues Cup play, finding an extra gear with the eyes of the world upon him. But, with the game on the line, goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was ready for the heat when it was brought into his kitchen, making the clutch saves the Loons needed when they needed them. Not only that, it was obvious that when Dayne stepped into the net in that high-pressure situation, he brought his swag with him. He was poised and he proved his intestinal fortitude in net. Especially for a team that hasn’t always been on the right side of those high-pressure shootouts, it was a big moment for St. Clair in his Loons career. Now, it’s on to the next one, and that “next one” looks like the road doesn’t get much easier in the Round of 16 when the boys face Deportivo Toluca FC. So, let’s chat about it…

Toluca FC, at a glance

We interrupt your usually scheduled “Run of Form” content to offer a bit more comprehensive overview of Deportivo Toluca FC. Affectionately known as the “Red Devils” or the “Sausage Makers,” Toluca FC hasn’t just been good in Leagues Cup action; they have possibly been the best squad in this tournament, to this point — which shouldn’t surprise any fan that’s familiar with Toluca's history, as this club is nothing short of legendary in the ranks of Liga MX’s contenders. Legendary manager Enrique Meza (1997-2000) integrated his offensive-heavy style of play into the club’s DNA, and the attack is where the Red Devils have shown for years that they are a force to be reckoned with. In the Leagues Cup, they’ve proven that some things never change, as the Liga MX side currently has scored the most goals in tournament play and have had no signs of slowing down any time soon. Toluca forward Jean Meneses is a key player in the team’s attacking third and has a knack for finding the net often. Since his arrival to the squad in January of this year, winger Maximiliano Araújo hasn’t wasted any time making an impact on his new squad, recording 6 goals and 4 assists upon his arrival in the club’s 2022-23 Liga MX Clausura.

Keys to the Match:

Close Proximity

Obviously, if you’re a club that's sitting atop the tournament leaders for goals, you know how to find the net. When facing Toluca, the Loons defensive effort won’t just need to be diligent; it will need to stay close to home, aka the net they’re defending. That’s because the Red Devils are leading the tournament for goals scored within 18. This may actually play into the Loons gameplan, as they seek to never get too far downfield in their attack, always remaining ready to drop back at a moment’s notice to protect the goal. That may require some additional support for the boys with the speed and endurance to make a difference at both ends of the field, like Bongi has throughout the season. Kervin Arriaga was a similar component to that strategy, but without his services for the rest of this season, someone in the midfield will likely need to step into that role of being at both ends when the situation calls for it.

Keep Up The Pace

Toluca can score goals, and that narrative has been established. However, that style of play also lends itself well to giving up goals more quickly, which is also a habit of Toluca’s intense attacking style. For a team like MNUFC that plays better off the ball than when possessing it for long periods of time, this could be a recipe for success in the scoring department. With Bongi, Rey and Pukki ready to make runs when the counter-attack is able to open up, this could be something the Loons may be able to expose against Toluca. And, based on the way the MNUFC attack has performed in this tournament, this could be a way for the Loons to change a “track meet” into an advantage that can outpace the opponent’s attacking firepower.

Dayne Can Bring The Pain

Toluca enters the Round of 16 as, debatably (but not really), the most impressive team in the tournament to this point. Yes, their attack is aggressive and can be prolific in the goal-scoring department. But, this MNUFC squad in their current form just may be Adrian Heath’s most offensive-minded team since coming to the franchise, and feels like it has the potential to go blow-for-blow with a team like Toluca. But, after performing at such a high level in his Gold Cup appearances for Canada, along with triumph in the shootout against Columbus in the Round of 32, I believe Dayne St. Clair can be the pain in the butt Toluca has yet to run into in this tournament. If anything, the last game may be just the stepping-stone to St Clair’s swagger giving the keeper the confidence he needs to stand up to the Toluca firing squad and, ultimately, hold them at bay.