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Loons Flying to Nashville for Quarterfinal Matchup

Leagues Cup Quarterfinal Graphic

Nashville SC vs. Minnesota United FC

GEODIS PARK | Nashville, Tennessee

8.11.2023 | Leagues Cup Quarterfinal

7:30 p.m. CT (Watch on MLS Season Pass)

Two knockout games, two shootout wins for Minnesota United. The Loons are flying on in Leagues Cup, with a home match against Club América on the horizon. Psych! That was happening for about 10 minutes yesterday, before some late reviews saw Nashville get another chance—one that they didn’t waste. After the craziness of winning our own match and the shootout reversal south of here, we’re heading to Tennessee to continue our quest for the Leagues Cup trophy. This one is going to be tough, but nothing feels out of reach considering the form your Loons have found.

Minnesota United - The Journey So Far

It all started with Puebla. A 4-0 thrashing of the Liga MX side announced MNUFC’s arrival in the tournament with a bang, introducing the goal-scoring form that has carried the club this far. A narrow loss to the Chicago Fire couldn’t keep the Loons from advancing, setting up a road battle with the Columbus Crew. The Black and Blue came out on top in a wild match against their first yellow opponent of the tournament, getting back to the counter-attacking formula that had seen them find success in the first place. Most recently, last night’s shootout victory against Toluca saw the Loons hold on just tight enough to squeak past a resurgent Choriceros side, eliminating the only team to have beaten Nashville in this year’s Leagues Cup. Since it started, this run has been defined by the play of Bongokuhle Hlongwane, the tournament’s joint leading goal scorer along with Lionel Messi. With Rey and Pukki feeding the in-form winger, it’s going to take a lot to stop Minnesota’s team.

Nashville SC - The Journey So Far

For Nashville, the story has followed a fairly similar script. They took the dub in their first match against Colorado, though not in the most comfortable fashion. A wake-up call against Toluca saw the Boys in Gold fall 3-4, but Toluca’s beatdown of Colorado saw Nashville through to the knockouts. A shootout victory against Cincinnati in the Round of 32 was enough to secure another home game, but Club América was an unfortunate reward for advancing. The titans of Liga MX put up a good fight at GEODIS Park, doing what they thought was enough to win in the shootout before a VAR review nullified the game-winning PK save. Mukhtar’s men took advantage of their second chance, with Daniel Lovitz capitalizing on Jonathan Dos Santos’ miss and setting up a date with the Loons this Friday.

Keys to the Match:

Don’t You, Forget About Me

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Nashville has got a pretty good number 10 in Hany Mukhtar. The reigning MLS MVP is leading this season’s golden boot race with 13 goals, but he’s only managed to find the back of the net once in Leagues Cup play. The German playmaker is one of the most dangerous attacking players in North America; writing him off after a brief run of less than amazing form would be a huge mistake. With the addition of Sam Surridge to the lineup, the Loons will need to be careful in how they deal with Mukhtar. If you commit numbers to slow him down, he’s got the quality to find Surridge for the finish. If you give him too much space, he’ll just put the ball in the goal by himself. One way or another, Mukhtar is capable of hurting any team he plays against; defenders beware.

Two Up Top

While many MLS teams have shifted toward using a front three, Nashville continues to utilize a two-striker system, though not necessarily in the traditional sense. Recently, they’ve used a combination of Mukhtar, Fafa Picault, and Teal Bunbury up front, giving them unique profiles that can easily confuse opposing defenses. The mobility of these “strikers” makes them incredibly dangerous to undisciplined teams, with Picault and Mukhtar in particular possessing an ability to draw defenders out of position and leave room in the middle of the pitch for their teammates to run into. Toluca’s use of a front two was different, with the front men largely remaining central while their wingbacks filled the wide spaces. MNUFC will need to remain compact and vigilant against a Nashville side that will be doing their best to pull them out of shape.

The Goal-y Trinity

Obviously, Bongi is the man right now; nobody is denying that. But he’s not the only one pulling the strings behind the Loons’ recent scoring form. The ever-magical Emanuel Reynoso has taken up the role of provider, connecting counter-attacks and creating chances out of thin air. Likewise, the hold-up play and spatial awareness of Teemu Pukki have opened up passing lanes and allowed MNUFC to find success in the box. The combination of their games has been a revelation for this team; between the near-telepathic connection we’ve seen flashes of and the next-level quality on the ball that they’ve put on display, they’re giving their squad an edge up top that simply can’t be ignored. The only piece that’s yet to be added is that goal-scoring touch from Pukki. While the Loons prefer to play quickly, holding onto the ball would give their striker time to get into his preferred position, and the more he does that, the more goals will come. If this trio can keep up the good work and maybe add a few goals from their clinical Finnish front man, Nashville is going to struggle to keep up.