MNUFC2 v ATX FC II
National Sports Center Stadium | Blaine, Minnesota
9.10.2023 | MLS NEXT Pro Game No. 26
5:00 p.m. CT | Streaming on AppleTV
MNUFC2 had an eventful trip to California this past week, gaining two points on the road to climb back into playoff contention. Now, the lads sit in seventh in the Western Conference with 38 points. With three games left and four teams ranked close enough to knock them out of their spot, the Loons will need to keep up their intensity if they want to see the postseason.
The Black and Blue showed a lot of resilience against San Jose, and that sort of fighting spirit is exactly what it will take to carry them through to the playoffs. The trick is to keep it up for the remaining three matches.
“I thought the attitude from the guys tonight was outstanding,” said Head Coach Cameron Knowles. “Often times when you concede the first goal [by Earthquakes II] was five minutes in, and then a second one a couple minutes later, a game like that can, especially on the road, get out of hand pretty quick. To stop the bleeding, to fight our way back into the game and then ultimately to come out with the extra point was fantastic. At this time of the year, it was critical.”
The next match for the Loons will not be an easy one. Austin FC II is ranked third in the Western Conference with 48 points, and has some strong weapons. Valentin Noel and Sebastien Pineau are the teams leading scorers with six goals a piece, and Damian Las was voted Goalkeeper of the Month for August – he will not be easy to get past.
Some good news for the Loons, however, is Kameron Lacey, Emmanuel Iwe and Diogo Pacheco have 24 goals between the three of them and are very solid threats of their own. Austin has also slowed their momentum this summer, having shown some inconsistent results, and failing to win their past three matches in regulation.
MNUFC2 has an opportunity to overpower this off-kilter squad and find firmer ground on the positive side of the playoff line – perhaps getting a little revenge for their shootout loss earlier this season as well. Having already clinched a playoff spot, Austin also does not have the same dire motivation as the Loons, which should make for an interesting match – either Austin will be relaxed and calculated, or play with lacking urgency.
It is all set to go down this Sunday in Blaine. A win will have the Loons that much closer to their postseason prize, yet a loss could see them fall below contention. Can the Black and Blue make that final push needed to see the other side? All we can do is wait and see.