Much like the legendary BB King, the Loons are back in LA this week, waiting for the sun to shine. Perhaps you prefer the poetic words of one Notorious B.I.G., who once emphatically declared that he was going-going back-back to Cali-Cali. Regardless of your musical inclinations, Minnesota United is taking one final trip to the Golden State, this time visiting Los Angeles to play the only MLS team that actually resides in the city proper, LAFC. With just three matches remaining in the 2023 regular season, there’s no more room to drop points. One point doesn’t do much to help either of these sides; they’ll both be hungry for a win and hoping to gain some valuable momentum heading into the final two weeks.
Minnesota United -
Run of Form: D-L-L-L-D
There’s no good way to say this; the Loons’ recent results have been disappointing. They’ve earned just two points from their last five matches, dropping like a stone to 11th place in the Western Conference in the process. MNUFC have squandered leads in their last three matches, turning a potential nine points into just one. It’s been pretty bleak as of late, but the past is the past; dwelling on it won’t change the outcomes we’ve already seen. There have been some positives to take away from the last few games, including the fact that the Loons have shown an ability to score first and frequently. If they want to have a shot at the postseason, they’re going to have to leave their bad habits in the past and move forward with staunch determination, especially with the opponents that remain on their schedule.
Run of Form: L-W-D-D-L
While this match is crucial for the visitors’ playoff hopes, 4th-place LAFC have slightly more wiggle room. A win would secure their place in the postseason, while a loss or draw wouldn’t end their hopes. They’ve been limping to the finish lately, picking up just five points in their last five games. Fresh off their loss to Chicho Arango and Real Salt Lake, the Black and Gold won’t want to wait any longer to guarantee their chance to defend their MLS Cup title. They’ve already failed to retain the Supporters’ Shield after watching Cincinnati lift the trophy last weekend. This squad is used to winning, so they’re probably not in the best of moods at the moment. Opponents should be wary of a jaded LAFC; wounded animals tend to strike desperately.
Keys to the Match:
The Finland puns won’t stop until Pukki stops scoring, and luckily, that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. MNUFC’s number 22 has rediscovered his Finnishing touch, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to find it. With four goals in his last five matches, Pukki is finally showing MLS what made him so successful in European soccer. It seems that a bit of time spent getting to know his teammates has benefited Finland’s all-time leading goalscorer, as the striker has begun to adapt his runs to accommodate the preferences of his attacking partners in an effort to create more space in the attacking third. If the Loons can keep pairing Pukki’s intelligent runs with Rey’s next-level vision, the chances will continue to come. No matter who’s on top during the run of play on Wednesday, the Loons have what it takes to create something out of nothing at a moment’s notice.
Track Back AND Attack
It’s no secret that LAFC has some pretty talented attacking players. Whoever Adrian Heath plays on the wings is going to have to put in a massive shift if the Loons want to keep the home side quiet. That means running up and down the channels almost nonstop. When the fullbacks are defending Bouanga or Vela, MNUFC can’t afford to let that be a 1v1 matchup for too long. Instead, they need to collapse and get numbers back quickly to close the space around these attacking dynamos. The last time these sides faced each other, Vela made the most of a small opportunity. In his own stadium, he’s going to be even more dangerous. While tracking back to defend is going to be crucial, the attacking piece can’t be ignored either. Without width up top, the Loons’ scoring threat will be next to nothing. Whether it’s Bongi and Hassani or any other combo of wide playmakers, they’re going to need to be prepared to run. And I mean RUN.
Do the Math
Major League Soccer is known for its parity; anyone can beat anyone on any given day. But it’s also a league where the season’s best stories are written in streaks. We don’t have a Bayern Munich-esque equivalent team winning the league every year; instead, the victor tends to be the team that gets their act together at the right time. If you can squeak into the playoffs on the back of three wins at the end of the season, that positive momentum could carry you to an MLS Cup, and no one would bat an eye. Alright, maybe one or two people would blink, but you get the idea: until the numbers say your season is done, there’s reason to believe you could accomplish something great. They say that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there’s certainly still a way for the Loons to succeed this season. A bit of reverse engineering tells you that there must be a will in the locker room as well. Minnesota United may be down right now, but all it takes is one positive result to change the tides and remind the boys that they’re not out just yet.
LAFC vs. Minnesota United FC
BMO Stadium | Los Angeles, California
10.04.2023 | MLS Matchday No. 36 | MLS Game 32
9:30 p.m. CT (Watch for free on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass, or of Fox Sports 1)