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Opponent Breakdown | #MINvSEA

Loons back, baby! After a busy and exciting international window, Minnesota United FC returns to Allianz Field and MLS regular-season action, hosting the always-dangerous Seattle Sounders in St. Paul this Saturday.

The Occasion: MLS Game No. 5; Home Game No. 3

The Opponent: Seattle Sounders FC

Head-to-Heads

The Sounders have been the closest thing there is to a white whale for Minnesota United FC ever since the Loons made the jump to MLS in 2017. Across 10 meetings with the team from the Emerald City, Minnesota has picked a win, a draw, and eight losses. Seattle also handed the Loons one of the most heartbreaking moments in club history in the 2020 Western Conference Final. Minnesota held a 2-0 lead and were only 15+ minutes away from making their first-ever appearance in an MLS Cup Final when disaster struck and the Sounders scored three goals before the end of stoppage time to steal the Western Conference crown away at the last second.

Despite holding the upper-hand historically, the Sounders are still looking for their first victory at Allianz Field. They’ve only been visitors to the Midway venue on two occasions: last year’s 1-0 loss and a 1-1 draw on May 4, 2019.

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Their Run of Form: D-D-W-W-L

Week 4 - 1-1 D at Austin FC (43’ goal by Will Bruin, assisted by Cristian Roldán)

CCL Quarterfinals (Leg 2) - 1-1 D at León (45’+3 goal by Fredy Montero, PK)

Week 3 - 3-2 W vs. LA Galaxy (17’ goal by Jordan Morris; 45’+2 goal by Fredy Montero, PK; ‘72 goal by Xavier Arreaga, assisted by Alex Roldán)

CCL Quarterfinals (Leg 1) - 3-0 W vs. León (31’ goal by Fredy Montero, PK; 39’ goal by Fredy Montero, assisted by Cristian Roldán; 90’ goal by Jordan Morris, assisted by Cristian Roldán)

Last Season

Seattle finished just one point shy of tying for tops in the conference with the Colorado Rapids in 2021. The Sounders collected 60 points on the season with a record of 17-8-9 and also led the Western Conference in goal differential at +20. Real Salt Lake upset Seattle in the first round of MLS Cup Playoffs in penalty kicks after the two sides played to a 0-0 draw. 

Minnesota and Seattle met three times in 2021. The home team won and kept a clean sheet in all three meetings. The Loons disastrous 0-4 start to last season began with getting shellacked by the Sounders 4-0 in Seattle on opening day. Raúl Mario Ruidíaz paced the Sounders with two goals that day, João Paulo, and club legend Fredy Montero also found the back of the net.

The Loons finally earned their first three points against Seattle three months later in St. Paul. Robin Lod's 81st minute tap-in off a Nikko Hansen cross proved to be the match-winner and brought an end to Minnesota’s winless nightmare against Seattle. 

The Sounders returned to their winning ways at the expense of MNUFC once again in September, taking all three points in a much more tightly contested match in Seattle, with Paulo providing the only score in a 1-0 Seattle victory.

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More

Few clubs in Major League Soccer have had more on their plate in 2022 than the Seattle Sounders and manager Brian Schmetzer. The Blue and Green have enjoyed a successful campaign in CONCACAF Champions League and have reached the tournament’s semifinals for the first time since doing so in 2013. Seattle will come to Minnesota with the first leg of their CCL semifinal tilt with defending MLS Cup Champions NYCFC looming just days later.

It’s also been a busy international window for the Sounders. Like the Loons, they also have five players currently representing their respective national teams, including Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldon.

All the extra competition is a reasonable explanation as to why the perennial Supporters Shield contenders have thus far taken just four points across four regular season games. Such is life in big-time soccer — when you play well, more big-time soccer is the reward. Just like the fantastic Seattle-based hip hop duo ‘Blue Scholars’ say, “No Rest for the Weary.”

The Defense

Stefan Frei has never been named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, which feels like a lie. The former Cal Golden Bear standout has been an institution in the cage for Seattle ever since he arrived at the club in 2014 and is as big of a reason as any why Seattle has lifted four pieces of major silverware in that time. Though the major silverware that has eluded Seattle (as well as the entire league) may be the reason we don’t see Frei at Allianz Field on Saturday. The star keeper hasn’t played since the second leg against León on March 17.

Stefan Cleveland filled in for Frei in their August 20 tilt in Austin and turned in a Man of the Match performance to preserve a draw. I would guess Cleveland gets the nod again this Saturday to allow the more senior Stefan a few more days rest ahead of CCL. Loons fans shouldn’t expect too much of a downgrade. Cleveland was pretty spectacular against Austin.

Along the backline, Seattle will be without star centerback Yeimar, who is expected to miss a significant period of time with a high-ankle sprain. Leftback Nouhou Tolo is also one of the top players at his position in all of MLS and currently with the Cameroonian national team taking on Algeria in World Cup Qualifying. Will Schmetzer want to put Nouhou right back in the thick of things or make sure he’s fit and rested for NYCFC?

A name to keep an eye on is 16-year-old defensive midfielder Obed Vargas. The Anchorage, Alaska native has made three starts and appeared in all four regular season games. He’s an impressive young player, who has shown skill and maturity beyond his years. Of course, he is also abroad in international competition, helping out the U.S. U20 Men’s National Team in a pair of friendlies in Argentina.

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The Attack 

The Sounders boast one of the most lethal attacking units in all of Major League Soccer. Ruidíaz, Montero, Morris, Roldán, Rusnák, Lodeiro. I can keep going, but you get the idea. Seattle has always been one of the sexier teams on paper, and the matchday roster can look more like a fantasy team lineup when the whole team is available — but how many will be available? 

Morris and the elder Roldán are with the U.S. Men’s National Team and could figure into tonight’s matchup against the Ticos in Costa Rica. Lodeiro has barely played this season and Ruidíaz hasn’t played at all. Rusnák has also been reported as ‘dinged up’ at training this week. 

Barring injury in tonight’s match to either of the American internationals, all of them could reasonably be available for Schmetzer this Saturday. Schmetzer will be pragmatic, but he’s not going to do the Loons any favors either. I’d expect to see a similar lineup to the 4-2-3-1 he trotted out against Austin with Will Bruin at the top. You may well remember Bruin as the one who ignited that devastating three-goal flurry with his 75th minute goal in the 2020 Western Conference Final. Seeing his name on the sheet doesn’t exactly scream ‘backup plan,’ particularly if he’s subbed off in the second half for Fredy Montero, only the all-time leading scorer in club history. No big deal.

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Final Thought

If I’m Brian Schmetzer, I am absolutely taking this next game off, letting the Loons have the measly three points, and getting ready for one of the biggest matches in club history on Wednesday. A day will come when an MLS coach lifts that CCL trophy for the first time, and if I were as close as he is now, I would be doing everything in my power to make sure that coach is me.

I am a far cry from Brian Schmetzer, though, who I’m sure is looking ahead at the schedule for his team and sees nothing but wins. Seattle is a great team, and great teams are seldom great without great depth. Juggling regular season, national team call-ups and Champions League is what great coaches get paid to do, and Schmetzer has the luxury of a deep and talented roster to select his team from.

No matter who he puts out there or how Schmetzer chooses to navigate these immensely complicated waters for his team, the Loons will be facing an incredibly-talented lineup on Saturday and a team that has on all but one occasion refused to let Minnesota have all three points. I’m expecting we’ll be treated to a good one on Saturday, and I’m also expecting it to be a very, very tough one.

MATCH INFO

Minnesota United FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC

Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota

04.02.22 | MLS Game No. 5

7:00 pm CT (Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW Twin Cities, SKOR North)