MNUFC2 v Chicago Fire FC II
National Sports Center Stadium | Blaine, MN
05.07.2023 | MLS NEXT Pro Game No. 7
7:00 p.m. CT | Tickets, Streaming on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass
The moment has finally arrived – the Twos have their 2023 Home Opener this Sunday. It has been many months since National Sports Center Stadium was filled with the familiar patterns of Black and Blue, and this writer is ecstatic! For those who have yet to catch a Twosies game, you are truly missing out – especially with all of the new fan interactions going on this year: tailgating, Postgame PKs, Autograph Alley…you get the gist. As for the opponent? Well, MNUFC2 is set to face their foes from the southeast – Chicago Fire FC II.
After six straight road games to kick off the season, the Twos sit in fifth place in the Western Conference standings with 10 points. It has been a difficult schedule for the Twos, but the guys have persevered – winning three, losing two, and drawing one, all while traversing the country and playing in unfamiliar stadiums. On top of those impressive results, MNUFC2 is the only team in MLS NEXT Pro history to kick off their season by winning three straight away games. The Twos also lead the league in goals scored outside of the 18, with 5 total.
After their stellar start, the team hit a bit of a lull, falling short of a coveted three points in their past few matches, but even in their losses, their play has been nothing to scoff at. In their most recent match against Austin FC II, the Twos stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league – becoming the first team this year to gain points in that stadium.
“It’s positive in the fact that we’re the first team to come here and take points off of them,” said Head Coach Cameron Knowles. “They’d won all their games here up until this point, and for us to come in and get a result, it feels probably not as good with having been up a goal and up a man and they get back into the game and then we lose the shootout. But, we’ve got 10 points out of six games on the road to start out the year, and I think that’s a really good start when we look at that in its entirety.”
Defender Carlos Leatherman is happy with how the team played but hopes to stretch that success further, especially for the upcoming home opener against Chicago. “I think it's a good performance, but I think there's a lot of things that we need to look back on – and we already have – just on how to close out the game and in those decisive moments make the right decisions,” said Leatherman. “Whether it's clearing the ball or pressing as a team, just doing everything as a unit and really just seeing out the game.”
Chicago Fire FC II is currently in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings with seven points and a record of 2-3-1 (W-L-D). Interestingly enough, the Fire had a similar start to the Twos, in that they won their first few games and then lost the front foot over the following matches. A big difference between the teams, however, is their conversion rates.
MNUFC2 has notched 12 goals to Chicago’s 6, with a conversion rate of 21.8% versus 8.3%. Diogo Pacheco is tied for second in the Golden Boot race with five goals, whereas the Fire haven’t had anyone score more than one goal so far this season. The Loons have been much better at finishing their chances, which, needless to say, is a big plus for Sunday’s match.
Scoring aside, Chicago will not be an easy opponent. Teams in this league always put up a good fight – as shown by the Fire’s gritty performance in a recent 1-0 loss against the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Cup champions Columbus Crew 2. The boys in Black and Blue will need to bring the determination that had them on a three-game winning streak earlier this year if they want to see their home opener crowd sing “Wonderwall.”
Like the rest of us, the guys are buzzing at the opportunity to play at home again, and that excitement will undoubtedly push them to play with extra intensity. “We've been away for the last six weeks and you can just tell that within the group we're really excited to be home and really excited to play in front of our fans for the first time this season,” said Leatherman.
MNUFC2’s match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT on Sunday, May 7. Fans can stream the game on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass, or, better yet, bask in the great atmosphere of National Sports Center Stadium, and cheer on the guys to victory. It’s shaping up to be a beautiful day for a game in Blaine, and this is one you’ll want to see.