Following a frustrating draw with Sporting KC, the Loons will stay at Allianz Field this Saturday when they take on D.C. United. While the Loons look to extend their unbeaten run, D.C. will be desperately trying to start one of their own during a disappointing season.
The Occasion: MLS Week 20; Game No. 21; Home Game No. 11
The Opponent: D.C. United
Being in different conferences, these two don’t play each other often. Across their four games against one another, they have earned two wins apiece. They’ve alternated winners each time, with MNUFC winning the first and third meetings. If that trend continues, the Loons are set to see their current 4-game unbeaten streak live on.
Their Run of Form: L-L-W-L-D
Week 16 – 0-1 L at Chicago Fire
Week 17 – 1-3 L vs. Nashville SC (Goal from Taxiarchis Fountas)
Week 18 – 5-3 W at Orlando City (Goals from Taxiarchis Fountas (x3), Kimarni Smith, Nigel Robertha)
Week 19 – 0-7 L at Philadelphia Union
Week 20 – 2-2 D vs. Columbus Crew (Goals from Taxiarchis Fountas and Ola Kamara)
D.C.’s last five games have been…bleak. Fans likely hoped that their 5-3 win in Florida would stop the bleeding for a while, but a thorough demolition courtesy of Philadelphia proved otherwise. The only bright spot in an otherwise demoralizing run of games has been forward Taxiarchis Fountas, whose five goals in four games have justified his recent inclusion on the MLS All-Star roster.
Last year, the Loons made the trip to our nation’s capital for their lone match with the Black-and-Red. A slow start to the game didn’t see any quality chances come up until the Loons gave up a penalty in the 23rd minute. Forward Ola Kamara took the shot cleanly, sending Tyler Miller the wrong way as he slotted it in the bottom right corner to take the 1-0 lead.
Despite going down, MNUFC kept fighting. In the 40th minute, a Franco Fragapane free kick found the head of Bakaye Dibassy, whose shot found side netting over the outstretched arms of D.C. 's keeper Bill Hamid. However, this wasn’t the last occurrence of the first half.
Just before the whistle blew for the break, a Kamara cross found defender Julian Gressel free in the box. A nice touch and finish put the home team up 2-0 in the 45th. Though they failed to convert a penalty in the 52nd minute, D.C. United continued to play on the front foot.
The Black-and-Red found their game-sealing goal in the 85th minute, when a Junior Moreno shot took a significant deflection off of a Minnesota United defender. All-in-all, the home team prevailed by a score line of 3-1.
That was then, this is now
Once again, Minnesota United are coming up against one of the MLS originals. They claimed three of the first four MLS Cups, losing the final in the only season they didn’t claim the league title. For most of the league’s first decade of existence, D.C. was the team to beat.
Their trophy cabinet has four MLS Cups, four Supporter’s Shields, and three U.S. Open Cups. In 1998, they won both the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup and the Copa Interamericana, adding continental pedigree to their resume. Stars like Jaime Moreno, Dwayne De Rosario, and Wayne Rooney have all worn the colors throughout the years, further cementing the prestige and aura around the team in our nation’s capital.
Since 2008, though, things haven’t been quite so rosy. As MLS has grown and developed, it appears as though they left behind one of their most historic teams, with D.C. failing to win any silverware since 2013. Now, they are on track to have one of the team’s worst seasons for a while, sitting at the bottom of the entire league with just 18 points in 18 games.
While the on-field product has left fans with little to celebrate, there has been an exciting development on the sidelines. After playing for D.C. United from 2018-20, Wayne Rooney is back to manage his former team. This is Rooney’s second managerial appointment, and fans will be hoping that he can turn things around in a hurry.
Compared to the rest of the league, D.C. has been just about average in the goal-scoring department. With 25 goals in 18 games, they actually have been producing fairly well in the attack. The team is led in scoring by Greek international Taxiarchis Fountas, with 10 goals in just 12 appearances. Striker Ola Kamara has contributed seven goals as well, with Michael Estrada chipping in four of his own.
D.C. have utilized three different formations in their last five games, so it’s difficult to tell how they will line up on Saturday. With new manager Wayne Rooney unlikely to have started his job by game day, we will likely see them play in a formation that is most familiar to them. They have lined up in a 3-4-2-1 in 12 of their games this season, so that may be the preferred selection.
Regardless of the lineup, expect to see Fountas, Kamara, and Estrada feature in some way. The three of them have combined to be the heart of this D.C. attack, and it is likely that they will be the biggest problems for MNUFC’s back line.
At the other end of the field, we see where D.C.’s major problem is. They’ve allowed a league-worst 39 goals, averaging out to more than 2 goals scored against them each game. While goalkeeper Bill Hamid has only played 10 games this season, the team surely hoped that their defense would fare better than it has.
The backline is typically anchored by veteran Steven Birnbaum, who has played more than 200 games for the club and 11 games for the USMNT. Next to him, Brendan Hines-Ike is typically employed, along with Donovan Pines when they play with a back three. Fullbacks Julian Gressel and Sami Guediri have seen action recently, though Chris Odoi-Atsem and Andy Najar were the wide defenders in their draw with the Columbus Crew on Wednesday.
Since they are having such a disappointing season already, it isn’t out of the question to see D.C. experiment a bit with their lineup. Birnbaum will almost certainly start, Hines-Ike is a fairly safe bet, but the rest is up in the air. Whatever back line they put onto the field will be trying to better their average mark of 2 goals allowed per game.
Just like Kansas City, D.C. has seen better days. Though they’re able to score goals, they can’t seem to keep the ball out of their own net enough to pull out many results. The in-form Loons would be foolish to write them off, but should be licking their chops when they look at the state of the D.C. United defense. After scoring 10 goals in their last four games, MNUFC appear primed and ready to tackle this challenge. So, if you like goals, this one should have plenty of them.
Minnesota United FC v. D.C. United
Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota
07.16.22 | MLS Game No. 21
7:00 pm CT (Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW Twin Cities, SKOR North)