Houston Dynamo FC vs. Minnesota United FC
Shell Energy Stadium | Houston, Texas
5.23.2023 | U.S. Open Cup Round of 16
And just like that, we’re down to 16. Minnesota United are taking on yet another short week as they hightail it to Houston to face familiar foes in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. If you’ve got a nagging feeling that we’ve done this already, you’re partially right. This will be the second time the Loons have played the Dynamo in a six-day span, having taken down El Naranja 1-0 at Allianz Field last Wednesday. This edition of the matchup has vastly different stakes, though, with a trophy on the line and revenge on the mind.
Run of Form: L-W-L-W-W
With two league wins on the trot, the Loons appear to have rediscovered some of that early-season form that saw them go unbeaten in their first five matches. In their recent wins, the MNUFC defense has earned consecutive clean sheets for the first time this season, and the attacking play up top has really begun to pick up. The recent form of winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane has pushed MNUFC back up into sixth place in the Western Conference, keeping pace with the rest of the playoff hopefuls and looking the part. Considering the performances they’ve already put in during USOC play this year, Minnesota’s team seems poised to continue making noise on their quest for the Cup.
Houston Dynamo -
Run of Form: D-W-L-L-D
While the Loons are on an upward trajectory, Houston is in a bit of a tailspin. The on-field product has been alright lately, but results and tempers are not going their way. They’ve finished two of their last five matches with fewer than 11 men on the field, earning three red cards in that time frame. Two of the resulting suspensions kept Héctor Herrera and Amine Bassi out of the lineup that played at Allianz Field, meaning that the opposing squad may look a fair bit different than it did last Wednesday. The Dynamo haven’t been playing their best soccer recently, but they’ve proven that they’re capable of taking the game to any opponent this year. Sometimes, a little USOC magic is exactly what you need to jumpstart your form.
Keys to the Match:
The Midas Touch
While the Loons haven’t been among the league’s most potent attacks this season, their U.S. Open Cup firepower has been top-notch. In two games, they’ve put in a total of six goals. That’s half as many goals as they’ve scored in 13 league matches. That means that while MNUFC averages less than a goal per game in the league, they’re averaging exactly three goals per game in their Open Cup run. Not only are they scoring more in the tournament, they’re finding goals all over the pitch, with five different goal scorers adding their names to the scoresheet. Adrian Heath will certainly be hoping to see the magic of the cup keep this attacking excellence going tomorrow night.
If you’re paying any attention to MLS games right now, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in the schedule. Midweek games and USOC matches are making life difficult for every team at the moment, forcing squad rotation to avoid fatigue and severe injuries. This is why the roster is bigger than 11; players need rest, but games must go on as scheduled. The stresses of traveling and playing an average of two games each week wear on any player, no matter how positive the results are. It’s likely that we’ll see rotated lineups for both sides tomorrow night; the real question is, whose depth pieces are better?
The Search for Silverware
For some teams, the U.S. Open Cup is an inconvenience, clogging the schedule and mitigating rest time. For others, it is among the biggest and most prestigious trophies available. The former may not care much about who wins it all, but the latter chase the cup with all they’ve got. Now that we’ve reached the last 16, it’s time for teams to decide how important this tournament really is to them. A trophy is just four wins away, but falling behind in league play right now might cost you the playoffs. The team that wins tomorrow night will likely be the side that values the USOC more than the other. A trophy is on the line; who wants to lift it more?