Loons Face Tough Test On The West Coast


San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United FC

PayPal Park | San Jose, CA

09.02.2023 | MLS Matchday 30 | MLS Game No. 26

9:30 p.m. CT (AppleTV - MLS Season Pass - Free, 1500 ESPN)

Hello, fellow waterfowl enthusiasts! Well now, THAT looked far more like the home-field advantage we’ve been hoping to activate a bit more frequently this season. It probably didn’t hurt that our opponent is in the midst of an incredibly rough 2023 campaign. But, aside from that fact, the Loons looked legit from both an attacking standpoint, as well as in protecting the net from any kind of threat Colorado tried to impose during Minnesota’s 3-0 win at Allianz Field on Wednesday night. The Western Conference standings are in a state of gridlock, so every point the boys can muster from the rest of the schedule is crucial to firmly securing a spot in the playoffs and not having to sweat it out through Decision Day. This Saturday night’s matchup with San Jose will likely pose a far tougher task for the Loons than Colorado did, and we won’t have the luxury of our home crowd to factor into the equation. Also, let’s add in the fact that MNUFC and San Jose are currently holding the seventh and eighth spots, respectively, with both teams sitting even with 35 points total in the standings, yeah…this one is kind of a big deal. So, let’s hypothesize how the Loons will strategize this opportunity to equalize the Quakes. Annnnd, go…

Minnesota United

Run of Form: W-D-W-L-W (All Competitions)

First and foremost, it was nice to breathe a sigh of relief after the Loons were able to vanquish any fears of falling prey to a trap game. Within the first 30 minutes of the match, the Loons had things well in hand against last-place Colorado. Especially following a disappointing draw with Seattle, Wednesday night’s match was the type of bounce-back performance fans wanted to see from the Loons. The boys' momentum coming out of Leagues Cup hasn’t lost any of its steam, and now they have a chance to extend their unbeaten streak to six (3-0-2) against San Jose. And finally, a long overdue Pukki Party on the home pitch isn’t just a boost to the fine Finn’s confidence moving forward, it’s a boost to the squad’s morale as a whole to see its biggest acquisition and striker doing what he does best: score goals. Love that for us.

San Jose Earthquakes

Run of Form: L-L-W-L-L (All Competitions)

This may actually be some fortunate timing for the Loons to be crossing paths with the Quakes, as they come into Saturday’s match on a 2-game losing streak, falling 3-2 this past Wednesday to LA Galaxy and 3-0 to Sporting KC prior to that. In spite of the slight downturn in their recent run of form, the San Jose attack is a formidable outfit that features one of the league's top scoring threats in midfielder Cristian Espinoza. And, as they sit neck-and-neck in the standings with MNUFC, they will be well aware of the implications for this upcoming matchup and looking to right the ship on Saturday night.

Keys to the Match:

More I-T-S

Somewhere. Anywhere. Whether he’s in the starting XI or being subbed on, good things happen to the Loons when Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is on the pitch. The MLS vet has made his impact felt since being acquired by the Loons during the transfer window. How impactful? Well, guess who’s tied for the team lead in assists after only appearing in five games for the squad. That’s right, it’s I-T-S (3). Obviously, the passing accuracy ITS displays is something the Loons attack is fortunate to have as they progress through the home stretch of the regular season schedule. The more ITS, the more dangerous the Loons attack, and even more so if a certain Bongi gets added back into the mix.

Bristow In Tow?

During the media call prior to the Colorado match, Coach Adrian Heath was asked about young defender Ethan Bristow, and his thoughts on his play so far since joining the Loons. While he said he's been impressed with his play so far, the gaffer made mention of wanting to see Bristow pushing up field more often when counterattacking. He did that against Colorado, albeit briefly, and by all accounts to gaffer, is definitely onto something. The young defender has speed, and for an attack that relies on its defenders to make runs up the sidelines, Bristow has the potential to open the Loons up to even more crossing / scoring opportunities on the attack. Whether he’s part of the starting XI or in a reserve role against San Jose, let’s hope to see a bigger sample size of Bristow’s capabilities in that department.

Don’t Let Cristian Cook

San Jose attacker Cristian Espinoza is a special player, hence why you’ll find his name near the top of the list for most goals on the season. Along with forward and fellow scoring threat Jeremy Ebobisse (8 goals on the season), San Jose has the kind of 1-2 punch on the attack that can put the opposition in a hole in a hurry. If the Loons defense is to hold down the fort against the Quakes attack, they will need to key in on Espinoza. Seems like a no-brainer, but besides his scoring efficiency, San Jose’s #10 can create just as many scoring opportunities for his attacking mates. Whatever their approach, the Loons defense needs to keep the space they give Espinoza to operate at to a bare minimum if they are to hold him in check.