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San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United FC

PayPal Park | San Jose, California

10.01.2022 | MLS Week No. 33 | MLS Game 33

9:00 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)

MLS is back! Now that the international break is behind us, the most important part of the season is ready to be played out. In their final road game of the season, Minnesota United will be heading to PayPal Park to take on the San Jose Earthquakes. If the Loons want to keep control of their own playoff destiny, this is a must-win game. The Quakes, on the other hand, will be trying to avoid the infamous Wooden Spoon. Though their motivations are vastly different, the combination of the two should make for an intriguing match.

Minnesota United -

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

It wasn’t too long ago that MNUFC looked like a nailed-on playoff team. In their last five games, though, key injuries and suspensions have created a perfect storm of misfortune for the Black and Blue. They’ve picked up just 1 of the last 15 available points, dropping them from third to seventh in the Western Conference. Despite that run of form, the Loons still control their own fate with two games remaining. Two wins will see them get into the playoffs without any help needed, while any dropped points could open the door for the chasing pack. With rested legs and a rejuvenated squad, Minnesota United are ready to fight for their place in the postseason. 

San Jose Earthquakes -

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

While MNUFC will have their eyes set on a postseason berth, San Jose will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. At this point, they are simply playing for pride, and perhaps to avoid the worst record in the league. Their last five games have seen them lose three times, including a brutal 6-0 thrashing at the hands of FC Cincinnati. No matter how you slice it, this has been a rough run for the Quakes. Though they are capable of scoring, they seem to be completely incapable of defending, having conceded 67 goals this season, the most in the entire league. Exciting attacking players like Jeremy Ebobisse and Cade Cowell haven’t been able to make up for their teams utter lack of resistance in the defensive third.

Keys to the Match

Can you handle it?:

The mental side of the beautiful game is often underappreciated, but it plays a huge role in how every team approaches their next match. After dropping 14 of their last 15 points, there’s a lot of pressure stemming from MNUFC’s recent form. Coming off of a 4-1 loss to the 12th-place team in the Western Conference, confidence for the Black and Blue isn’t at a particularly high point. Now, more than ever, the Loons need team leaders like Wil Trapp and Michael Boxall to step up and get the squad in the right mindset. It’s time to remind them what they are capable of and motivate them to rekindle the kind of form that got them into the playoff race not so long ago. A team that plays with the burden of expectation is a team restricted by shackles; that’s not how this game is meant to be played. If the Loons can play freely and find joy in their football once more, they will almost certainly earn a result on this road trip.

Look me in the eyes:

Tactically speaking, Saturday’s matchup will present unique challenges for the Loons. While MNUFC seem certain to line up in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, San Jose has demonstrated a more flexible lineup this year. Though the Quakes also favor a 4-2-3-1, they’ve utilized a 4-3-3 formation in nine of their matches this season. Should they choose the 4-3-3 this weekend, it may disrupt the fullback play that MNUFC normally likes to employ. With opposing wingers staying high and wide, Kemar Lawrence and DJ Taylor will have to stay back more often to avoid exposing the flanks to counter attacks. If they venture too far forward and get caught out of position, center backs Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman will be hung out to dry as they face a capable Quakes front three. Though a small change, this could also disrupt the effectiveness of the Loons attack, as it takes away the extra man and leaves them one dimension flatter. A like-for-like formation matchup would be the best case scenario for MNUFC. 

Midfield Maté:

Across MLS, Argentine playmakers seem to pull most of the league’s creative strings. Players like Sebastian Blanco, Gonzalo Higuain, and Lucas Zelarayan have shown that the flair from the Albicelestes can really make waves in Major League Soccer. This weekend, both San Jose and MNUFC will be hoping to see their stargentinians make some noise. For the Quakes, Cristian Espinoza boasts 7 goals and 14 assists on the season, leading his team in goal contributions. Likewise, Emanuel Reynoso leads the Loons with 10 goals and 10 assists this year. Any goals we see on Saturday will likely involve one of these two midfield maestros, so make sure to pay attention when they’re on the ball.