Minnesota United FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota
10.09.2022 | MLS Week No. 34 | MLS Game 34
4:00 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)
The fabled Decision Day is upon us, and it is living up to its name. The Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Minnesota United are all vying for the final two spots in the postseason, with a mere three points separating the top and the bottom of the pile. A win or draw on Sunday would guarantee a playoff spot for the Loons, but an in-form Vancouver side will not go quietly into that good night. The Whitecaps need a win to secure their spot in the playoffs, and after a three-game winning streak, their wheels are greased. With so much hanging in the balance, can the Loons find the form that brought them to third in the Western Conference just a short while ago, or will Vancouver make it a fourth straight win to complete their epic late-season rally?
Minnesota United -
Run of Form: L-L-D-L-L
When it rains, it pours. In Minnesota’s case, there’s been a constant dusting of water these past few weeks, but Midwesterners are taught to grin and bear it, right? The Loons have not won in six matches, struggling both to find the net and keep opponents out of it. The loss of key players to injury, including Bakaye Dibassy, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, and Robin Lod (who may be back for Sunday’s affair), along with missed games by Franco Fragapane due to yellow card suspension, has left the team stretched thin. However, the success that MNUFC found earlier in the year has kept their postseason possibilities afloat. The Loons still control their own destiny, and if we’ve seen anything this season, it’s that Minnesota likes to go on long unbeaten streaks seemingly out of nowhere. Strong playmaker Emanuel Reynoso is back in the mix after injury and suspension, and he will certainly be looking to make something happen for the Loons. The team has had a full week of training together after the international break —and a full week to contemplate the stakes of this final match. The talent is certainly there for this Minnesota squad; they just need to pair it with execution and energy.
Vancouver Whitecaps -
Run of Form: L-L-W-W-W
Vancouver was in a much different position just a few short weeks ago. Spotty success kept the Whitecaps in the middle of the pack, but any playoff dreams seemed out of reach. More specifically, the team has not found much success on the road, winning only two of their 16 away matches – which bodes well for a hosting Minnesota. However, Vancouver has found a spark these last few games, collecting nine out of nine possible points in their last three matches, and beating second-ranked Austin FC 2-0 in the process. The momentum has picked up for the team from the Rain City, who went from dismal playoff hopes to its front gates in a matter of three weeks. Apart from that, designated players Ryan Gauld and Lucas Cavallini have been very strong offensively, and will certainly need to be dealt with if MNUFC wants to keep the Whitecaps scoreless.
Keys to the Match
Decisions on Decision Day. What needs to be done, in this, the final hour? The entire 2022 season has been leading up to this moment, and all that’s left is that final step over the finish line. One decision that needs to be made is team-wide. What formation will Heath employ, especially with Arriaga out for yellow card accumulation and Lod’s return from injury still unknown? If Lod is back, he will most likely slot back into his center midfielder role. Otherwise, Rosales could step in for Arriaga, assuming Heath goes for his usual 4-2-3-1. One big issue facing the Loons is attacking output. Alan Benítez could slide into his wingback position, seeing as he loves to push forward. With half as many minutes as DJ Taylor, Benítez has one goal and two assists to Taylor’s one goal and three assists. Alan could help force more attacking play from the Loons, but Taylor has been a solid defensive presence; it just depends on what Heath would rather see in this final match. The other decision that must be made is within each player – the decision to be greedy in the box. The past three games, the Loons have only managed two shots on target in each game. Someone needs to decide to step up and be the finisher if Minnesota United is to gain a playoff berth.
In With a Win…or Draw:
Minnesota United needs some sort of result from Sunday if they want to see the postseason – win or draw. The culmination of the highs and lows of the season have all come to this point, and it is up to Minnesota on whether or not they will take it to the next step. The wild thing is, the Western Conference is so close, the Loons could finish as high as fourth or as low as ninth based on Sunday’s outcomes. With a win necessary for the Whitecaps, they will most likely come out of the gate like a shot – fighting tooth and nail for that last position in the postseason. If MNUFC so chooses, they could play more conservatively, only needing a draw to secure their position. Either way, Minnesota needs to be ready to face the full force of a determined Vancouver side, especially considering they’ve won three in a row to get to this position in the first place. For more in-depth information on possible clinch scenarios, read “Clearing up the Playoff Picture.”
It’s Our House:
Sunday’s game is tracking to be the highest-attended game in Allianz Field history, and Vancouver is walking straight into it. For a team that consistently struggles on the road, a packed Allianz Field will create a hostile atmosphere – winning streak or not. Meanwhile, Minnesota has played very well at home this season, losing only four out of their 16 home matches. To make things even more difficult for the Whitecaps, Allianz will be sporting a black-out theme. With the entire stadium geared up and behind the Loons in both voice and attire, the energy should be enough to knock Vancouver off-kilter and give MNUFC a winning edge.