Columbus Crew vs. Minnesota United FC
Lower.com Field | Columbus, OH
08.04.2023 | Leagues Cup | Round of 32
7 p.m. CT (AppleTV - Free)
Hello, fellow waterfowl enthusiasts! Welcome to the post-group-stage action of the Leagues Cup and, seeing as the boys in Black and Blue made it through to the Round of 32, we’ve got some things to talk about before we head to Ohio to meet with the Crew this Friday at, quite possibly, the worst name for a corporate-sponsored stadium, Lower.com Field. For my money, and theirs, I’ll take Allianz Field over that any day. Fans like myself were probably hoping the Loons next matchup would be at home if things shook out the way they looked to be shaking out in the group stages. But, alas, the one scenario that would have the boys playing on the road is how the chips fell, so Columbus it is. Unlike its terribly named stadium sponsorship, the Crew have played at high level through their Group Stage games, sporting an undefeated tournament record and a healthy dose of confidence after a 4-1 beat down of Liga MX’s Club América. So, what’s it going to take for the Loons to take down the Crew on their home pitch? Actually, we were just about to dive into that, so let’s go…
Run of Form: L-W-D-W-L (All Competitions)
In terms of the boys' form in Leagues Cup play, it has, at least for a majority of the time, been fun to watch. The attack looks far more formidable than it had throughout much of the season. Obviously, Reynoso’s return, Pukki’s arrival and Bongi’s ascendance have been some of the biggest differences between how things started and how they’re going, or progressive, if you will. However, and aside from some of the great things they did at both ends of the field against Chicago last week, dropping a lead and losing the match has to serve as a wake up call for the boys as they move on to the next round of the tournament. They need to find more consistency in terms of showing their ability to be clutch when it counts. Especially as they head into the unfriendly confines of Lower.com Field to play a team that has momentum on their side in terms of their most recent tournament outing. On the defensive end of things, they will see some one of their most consistent parts of the lineup return, as defender Michael Boxall returns from his one-game red card suspension that, if you follow Pioneer Press writer Andy Gerder’s X or x.com..(another terrible rebrand, btw) feed, you may have a better understanding as to why Boxy expressed his “frustration” in the manner he did.
Run of Form: W-W-L-D-D (All Competitions)
If their 4-1 throttling of Club América showed anything about the Crew, it’s that they are confident in the guys they have in the locker room. Previous to the match, they completed their transfer of midfielder Lucas Zelarayán to Al Fateh of the Saudi Pro League. For what it’s worth, Zelarayán’s season had some thinking of him as a legit MVP candidate in 2023, and had previously been named MLS Cup MVP when the Crew claimed the 2020 league championship. But, truth be told, the Crew looked to be doing just fine in their first matchup without him in the lineup, as forward Cucho Hernández registered a brace and midfielder Alexandru Matan, who slid into Zelarayán’s place in the lineup, certainly looked up to the task of replacing his predecessor. Most important to their recent success has probably been manager Wilfried Nancy, as he’s taken a roster that has been at flux at certain points this season and has them looking quite legit.
Keys to the Match:
Pukki's (Breakout) Party?
Nobody would say the shine of bringing in such a well-established scorer into the mix has worn off. But, since registering his first goal for the Loons against Houston back on July 12, Teemu Pukki is still in search of his second score for the squad. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had his opportunities in the games to follow, but unfortunately, they just haven’t fallen for the finest Finn this side of Robin Lod. At, not yet…but I believe they are coming. In fact, as he continues to forge the attacking connections with his mates up front, you have to believe that he’s on the cusp of breaking out. Even just watching Pukki’s body language when unable to convert over the last couple weeks, you can just see the determination to find the net. Against the Crew, I think Pukki is due for a big night.
Don't Take The Bait
Strategically, Columbus has exemplified a knack for excellent ball possession, something that has made opponents feel as if they want to increase their pressure further upfield into Columbus’ territory. That type of defensive approach is something the Crew have been known to take full advantage of, especially with Christian Ramirez attacking up front and still as dangerous of a scorer as ever. Will the Loons fall prey to that style of play? I wouldn’t bet on it. The Black and Blue take pride in staying consistent on the defensive front and having Michael Boxall back in the lineup to help coordinate those efforts will be a big boost. But, as a team that has shown that they can be quite dangerous off the ball themselves, the Loons will likely stick to that approach, which has proven more and more successful with the players and player additions to the roster. It’s not broken, so don’t fix it.
Play The Spoiler
A win against Club América would have been a nice result in itself. But, taking down one of Mexico’s most well-respected clubs to the tune of 4-1…that would put a feather in anyone’s cap, and let’s hope that’s how the Crew feel about it. Under Nancy, Columbus seems to be a well-managed squad, and I would expect them to be prepared for this matchup. But, an overly-confident mentality can be a dangerous thing when facing an opponent that may not be considered a favorite. In terms of this matchup, I see much more pressure being on Columbus, and I’d like to believe the Loons will be ready to exploit that school of thought if they see it playing out on the pitch Friday night.