Minnesota United FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
3.25.2023 | MLS Week No. 5 | MLS Game 4
7:30 p.m. CT (Exclusively on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass)
For their fourth game of the season, the Loons are making their way back to their home nest of Allianz Field – this time for a match in warmer weather. The conditions for the start of the season have been a bit rocky, but MNUFC has remained solid throughout, gaining seven points out of a possible nine. Coming off of their first win ever in Commerce City, Colorado, Minnesota United has confidence and momentum, but a new obstacle has arisen in the international window. Eight Loons have been called to international duty, and the number of starters missing will undoubtedly lead to an intriguing game this Saturday.
Run of Form: W-D-W
The Loons have had a strong start to their season, with the real shining star being the defense. The defensive depth has shown over the past few matches with new signings Zarek Valentin and Miguel Tapias adding a lot of strength and speed to the back line. In terms of the offense, there have been some great moments of teamwork and decision-making, and Kervin Arriaga has been covering a lot of ground – definitely a standout in this early 2023 season. However, the majority of the goals have come from quick transitions and set pieces rather than opportunities formed from combinations. Out of four goals, two have come from set pieces, one a penalty kick, and one a dangerously-quick transition. How the goals come doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that the chances are being capitalized on, and this squad continues to show a lot of promise on both ends of the field.
Vancouver Whitecaps -
Run of Form: L-L-D-D
The Whitecaps are still looking for their first win of the season – at least in MLS. Vancouver has found some success internationally, advancing to the Quarterfinals in the Concacaf Champions League by thrashing Real C.D. España 5-0 in their leg one game. The busy Concacaf schedule means they have had more match practice, but it also means they have had a few tiring mid-week tilts – having to travel all the way to Honduras last Wednesday just to travel back to Los Angeles a short three days later for their match against LA Galaxy. Their packed schedule could be a factor in their MLS struggles, but whatever the case, Vancouver is looking to get their feet under them, and soon. Standouts for the Whitecaps include Ryan Gauld and Julian Gressel. Ryan Gauld is a dynamic playmaker, who was awarded Player of the Year for the Whitecaps in 2022. Julian Gressel is a force in the midfield, and just earned his first international cap with USMNT in January. Both of these players have yet to score for Vancouver this season, but they are definitely ones to watch.
Keys to the Match
Let's Take This International
Ah yes. The elephant in the room. Minnesota United will be missing eight players this weekend as Kervin Arriaga, Joseph Rosales, Dayne St. Clair, Robin Lod, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Michael Boxall, Kemar Lawrence, and Jessie Molik Khan have been called to international duty. It’s a big gap to fill. On the flip side, Vancouver will be missing forward Sergio Córdova to a hamstring injury and defender Javain Brown to international duty. While the two losses will impact the Whitecaps, the Loons will need to do some pretty serious remodeling to fill the space of eight players. The offense is taking the biggest hit – specifically in the midfield. However, younger players may get the chance to step up and fill that space. Cameron Dunbar and Tani Oluwaseyi are just two who could help power the offense on Saturday. On the other end of the field, offseason additions to defensive depth are proving beneficial, as Heath will have a good selection to choose from.
Ready. Set. Set Pieces.
As mentioned above, two of Minnesota’s four goals this season have come from set pieces, and it just so happens that Vancouver has particularly struggled on defending those this year. The Whitecaps gave up two goals off of corner kicks and one off of a free kick in their leg two Concacaf Champions League game against Real C.D. España last Wednesday. This could be a good attack point for the Loons, especially with Miguel Tapias available, who assisted on one of the previous set-piece goals and scored on another.
He's a Keeper
Never overlook a goalkeeper and what a good one can provide to a team. The keeper anchors the back four, organizes the team during gameplay, and provides the last barrier of defense against enemy attacks. MNUFC has grown accustomed to Dayne St. Clair in that position, but due to international call-ups, there will be some changes in the 18. Clint Irwin will most likely step in for the MLS All-Star MVP, but no need to fret, Irwin has the skill and experience. Loons fans can rest easy knowing a solid veteran player will be filling in. Yohei Takaoka is a new keeper for the Whitecaps this year. Known for his ability with the ball at his feet, Takaoka has all the makings of a great keeper, though, much like his team, has had a bit of a slow start to the season. Yohei has yet to produce a shutout in MLS, and a vulnerable goalkeeper is a dangerous thing. On paper, a start against a shorthanded Loons attack may be exactly what the Whitecaps keeper needs to get his season back on track. But confidence is a tricky thing, and if Minnesota United can apply some early pressure, this could be the sort of game where one goal quickly turns into a full-fledged offensive explosion.