FC Dallas vs. Minnesota United FC
Toyota Stadium | Frisco, Texas
10.17.2022 | 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs | Round One
8:30 p.m. CT (FS1, FOX Deportes, 1500 ESPN)
The lights are brighter, the stakes are higher; it’s officially time to chase a championship. The MLS Cup Playoffs are here to turn up the intensity, bringing increasing intrigue and pressure to every game from here on out. The league’s 14 best teams are prepping for a race to the summit of MLS, a peak that only has room for one. For Minnesota United, the trek to the Cup begins in Frisco, Texas, where they will be taking on FC Dallas for the third time this campaign. After splitting the season series with one win apiece, this rubber match will give the winner more than bragging rights — it will keep their season and title dreams alive.
Minnesota United -
Run of Form: L-D-L-L-W
The 2022 regular season was defined by streaks of ups and downs for the Loons. Their seven-match unbeaten run from late June to late July catapulted them towards the top of the Western Conference, reaching as high as third place at one point. Unfortunately, the latter portion of the season was one of those down stretches for the squad. In their final seven matches, MNUFC earned just four out of a possible 21 points. They’ve fallen to teams that — on paper — they should’ve handled with ease, including Sporting Kansas City, San Jose, and Real Salt Lake. Each of those defeats had one glaring similarity; they were all on the road. The Loons haven’t won a road game since early August against Nashville. If they want their title challenge to last more than one match, they must find a way to improve on away days. If MNUFC can replicate the performance against Vancouver that got them into the playoffs, they’ll stand more than a chance against a Dallas team they beat on the road earlier this season.
FC Dallas -
Run of Form: W-W-D-L-W
For Dallas, the end of the regular season was a bit of a mixed bag. Wins against MNUFC and LAFC showed that they have the grit and skill to take down playoff-caliber teams, but a draw with San Jose and a loss to Colorado will have left fans surprised and a bit worried. While the Earthquakes managed a bit of good form to end the year, they still finished last in the Western Conference; Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola should have handled them with relative ease. While Colorado missed the playoffs by just 4 points, they failed to consistently impress this year, making Dallas’ loss to the Rapids a cause for concern. Their Decision Day win over Sporting Kansas City ultimately locked down third position in the West, likely lightening the mood and easing some of the doubts about the team’s form going into the postseason. Still, shaky form can play with the mind of even the best players, especially with the added pressures of a single elimination playoff game on the horizon.
Keys to the Match
Keep Them Quiet ... Until Qatar:
All season long, FC Dallas’ pair of Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira have been making headlines. Arriola is the team’s joint leader in assists (7) and second in goals (10), while Ferreira leads the squad with 18 goals paired with six assists. This dynamic duo have been tearing it up alongside one another for club and country, featuring heavily in the USMNT’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Though their goal production speaks for itself, these two will present additional, unique threats to the Loons. Last time out, Ferreira’s movement gave the MNUFC backline nightmares, alternating between ghosting behind and bursting through when the opportunities arose. Arriola’s skill on the wing and ability to seamlessly switch from right to left will keep the entire backline on notice. For the Loons, defending these two will be absolutely essential to victory. There’s no such thing as overcommunication when it comes to defending mobile attackers; Boxall, Kallman and company need to stay alert and aware of one another if they want to keep these World Cup bound poachers off the scoresheet.
The return of Minnesota United’s Finnish engine provides a boost that can’t be overstated. Lod’s versatility alone makes him every manager’s dream, seeing Adrian Heath utilize him as a RM, CM, CDM, ST, and a LM as needed this season. This has offered the Loons uncommon flexibility, as any player with that kind of range makes selecting a squad much easier. If you could put 11 Robin Lod’s on the field, every single one of them would not only understand their position, they would excel in it. He’s fourth on the team with six goals scored this season, adding two assists to boot. Simply put, this man is undroppable when he’s healthy. Though he only played 74’ in his return from injury, an additional week of recovery will likely see the Finn back to his best. Against a Dallas team that keeps the ball moving, Lod’s tireless workrate will be essential in his team’s pressing endeavors. Regardless of what position he finds himself in, expect to see Robin Lod play a critical role in MNUFC’s efforts.
The MLS Cup Playoffs can be both exciting and cruel. Oftentimes, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the stories that take shape in the postseason, but they are always compelling nonetheless. Of the league’s 28 teams, 17 have made it all the way to the final at some point, with 14 different teams winning it all. Despite the constant addition of teams, half of the franchises in MLS have won the title. Half! The lowest seed to ever win the cup is a four seed (2005, 2009, 2016). When Real Salt Lake took down the Galaxy in 2009, they finished the regular season below .500 before going on to write one of the league’s best underdog stories. All that to say, nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. No matter how long you’ve been in the league, no matter where you finish in the playoff seeding, the highs and lows that come at this point of the season are entirely unpredictable. In 25 seasons, only seven of the league’s Supporters’ Shield winners have lifted the Cup in the same season, proving that the underdog wins more often than not. Form matters more than anything from here on out, and both of these teams have reason to believe that their form is beginning to trend in the right direction.