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Preview | Can the Loons Lift Off in Houston?


It’s back-to-back road matches for MNUFC, as the Loons are on their way to Houston, Texas, in pursuit of their first win since June 1. It’s been a rough road since then, as we all know, but the Dynamo are only one point ahead of the Loons in the standings and a tad on the inconsistent side this season. If Coach Ramsay and the squad can rediscover their early-season road form, there’s every opportunity for them to walk away with a positive result from this match.

Minnesota United - (8-9-5)

Run of Form: L-L-L-L-L

When you’ve lost six games in a row, it’s easy to feel like everything needs to change, but that’s not the case. Let’s look at the last five losses as more than just results; let’s look at performances, too. The 5-3 barn-burner against FC Dallas saw the Loons generate tremendous attacking output while coming up against one of the greatest finishing performances in the league this year. A bit unfortunate; sometimes it happens. Both the Austin and Portland losses could have easily been draws or even wins, but momentary lapses in concentration pushed both games out of reach. An organized, disciplined Whitecaps team capitalized on errors two games ago, and the last-second loss to the Galaxy could have just as suddenly been a win in the other direction. When you commit to playing any new style of soccer, there are going to be growing pains; the style isn’t the issue. Small adjustments might help, but even the most sound game plans need to weather a storm or two before they reach their peak. The Black and Blue haven’t been getting blown out; they’re competing in every match. Sooner or later, it’s going to come together, and better than before.

Houston Dynamo - (8-7-6)

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

While it’s been a relatively up-and-down season for Houston, they seem to be immune to form. They don’t stay down for long, nor do they stay hot for a terribly long time. Fresh off a tough loss to a high-flying RSL, the Dynamo could just as easily lose another as win right away. Their 4-2-3-1 has one of the most talented double pivots in the league with Hector Herrera and Artur, and with the return of Adalberto Carrasquilla, the skill of their midfield would be hard for any team to deal with. I’d tip the Dynamo against most teams in the league right now, but the unpredictable nature of their 2024 season means that there’s always a chance that they’ll fail to live up to their potential in any given match.

Keys to the Match:

Reinforcements?! Woohoo!

A thin squad has hindered the Loons for the last few weeks, but that stormcloud is beginning to clear out. Alejandro Bran and Carlos Harvey have both returned from Copa América duty, giving the midfield a much-needed boost. Striker Teemu Pukki has returned as well, adding a goal against the Galaxy and bringing a spark to the Loons’ attack. It’s been a while since Eric Ramsay has had depth to pull from on the bench, so this weekend’s match will be a breath of fresh air for the skipper. The continued absence of Tani Oluwaseyi and Dayne St. Clair leaves holes in the roster, but any step towards a full-strength Loons squad is a welcome one. While small injuries and tired legs are still going to be a problem, it’s a problem that’s much easier to deal with with greater numbers in key positions.

Reinforcements?! Boo.

But players returning from international duty is a double-edged sword. Other teams are getting reinforcements too, and Houston is getting a good one, as midfield dynamo (no pun intended) Adalberto Carrasquilla will be available for selection this weekend. The Panamanian international is one of Concacaf’s more underrated stars, earning the Golden Ball in the 2023 Gold Cup and elevating the level of his national team over the last few years. His versatility in the middle of the park makes him an attacking threat, a defensive presence, and a next-level passing conduit. He’s a problem whether he lines up in the double pivot or further up the pitch, and he’s going to cause problems if he’s on the field this weekend. The best way to slow him down? Greater numbers in the midfield and a compact shape. Houston’s quality is going to help them find cracks at some point, but a concentrated effort to clog space might slow them down enough to make a difference.

Connecting Up Top

Despite the loss, the match against the Galaxy was balanced on a knife’s edge. Statistically, the Loons even edged their hosts in some key areas, including shots on goal and crosses. The offense continued to create chances, and were it not for a few very tight offside decisions, the Loons could have seen themselves bag a few more goals. Now, with Pukki’s finishing touch up top and the reinforcements we’ve already mentioned, it feels like this team is right on the edge of rediscovering the form that got them off to a hot start in 2024. The more Pukki can get involved, the better chance the Loons will have of notching a goal. He needs to start against Houston, and he needs to find a way to get connected to Sang Bin and Bongi, who have been the main scoring threats the last several weeks. With speed on each side and quality finishing in between, the Loons could unlock a level of their attack that’s been missing in recent times.