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Preview | MNUFC Look to go Five Unbeaten Against Portland


It’s a double gameweek at Allianz Field, and after that exciting 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night, Saturday’s match has a lot to live up to. Get ready to fell some trees, Loons fans, and don’t forget to warn everyone when they’re crashing down. That’s right, the Portland Timbers, the very team that inspired Pitbull and Kesha’s 2013 smash hit, Timber, are coming to Saint Paul this weekend for what is likely to be another spicy matchup.

Minnesota United - (6-2-3)

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

The Loons haven’t lost since that 2-1 game against Houston, stringing together four straight positive results. We have yet to see the same lineup start two games in a row under Eric Ramsay, as the young manager looks for the right combination, adjusts to circumstances, and looks to keep the entire squad engaged and invested. Our pair of Honduran internationals, Joseph Rosales and Kervin Arriaga, have been in fine form lately, scoring and assisting crucial goals while keeping them out on the other end. If the Loons want to take advantage of a relatively lackluster Portland side this weekend and keep pace with the top teams in the Western Conference, they’ll need to up the intensity and make sure they keep the pedal to the metal for the full 90.

Portland Timbers - (3-6-4)

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

The Timbers have had an interesting start to the year, adjusting to life under new manager Phil Neville and the exit of some of their club’s most important players. This is very much a new-look Portland side, and while they’ve not found their footing just yet, they’ve got plenty of threats for the Loons to worry about. They scored four goals after the 70th minute to complete a crazy comeback against San Jose on Wednesday night, with goals from Felipe Mora, Liga MX legend Jonathan Rodriguez, and their very own puppet master, Evander. All three of those players present serious threats in front of goal, and while they’ve only won three matches this season, I’d never count Portland out as long as they have such a talented roster. Besides, games against Portland are always crazy; who knows what’s going to happen?

Keys to the Match:

Have a Hit!

Several times against LA, the Loons looked a bit tentative in front of goal. Obviously, Bongi’s go-ahead banger was a beauty, but more often than not, the Black and Blue were overthinking and trying to find the perfect opportunity. This led to just seven of their 24 shots being on target, not a percentage the boys will be happy with. The best goals are scored when instinct takes over; as soon as you take an extra touch or second-guess your impulse to shoot, the result is hardly ever going to be what you hoped it would be. Once again, the problem isn’t chance creation; it’s taking advantage of the chances already being created. If the Loons trust their instincts a bit more in front of goal, much like Bongi did on Wednesday, the goals will come against what is statistically the league’s second-worst defense.

Wingbacks are Wild

There are so many benefits to playing with three center backs, my favorite of which is the opportunity to use wingbacks. Sure, they have to help on defense, but the freedom they’re given by adding a defender makes this the most exciting position on the field, especially the way Joseph Rosales plays it. If the opponent leaves space outside, Rosales can punish them by carrying the ball down the wing to spring a quick attack. If they leave space inside, he can overload the middle with an inverted run. Both he and DJ Taylor need to continue to grow into the wingback role, because the more of a threat they pose, the more space they’ll free up for their teammates. Rosales has been one of the best players on the team with the ball at his feet; feed the man in form!

Fill the Space

The downside of playing with three in the back? You have to get creative with how you fill the space in the midfield. MNUFC have been using a midfield two, most recently Wil Trapp and Robin Lod, with two attacking midfielders/wingers to help fill the space that a number 10 would normally occupy. While this has worked at times, it’s also pulled the striker, be it Oluwaseyi or Pukki, further back to get on the ball and help in the buildup. Again, that’s not a bad thing per se, but it can restrict the number of opportunities the striker gets in any given game, turning them into more of a false nine than a target man. If that’s the goal, then the wide playmakers need to get into the box to make up the difference. If it’s not intentional, a shift in positioning or even a switch to a 3-5-2 might be the best way to rectify the issue and clear things up in the middle.