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Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United FC

Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas

09.17.2022 | MLS Week No. 31 | MLS Game 32

7:30 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)

Minnesota United is forming up just in time for their last three matches of the season. The game against top-ranked LAFC saw a team finding their stride once more, following a string of less-than-ideal results. Sporting Kansas City rests near the bottom of the table, and unless they can pull off the most legendary run in sports history, they are out of playoff contention. The match on Saturday may not carry much in terms of playoff implications for SKC, but it certainly does for MNUFC, who still needs a few points to clinch a spot.

Minnesota United -

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

The Loons have finally got their feet under them. A few tough results made the collective nerves of fans and teammates spike a bit, but for the past two games MNUFC has looked tight. Minnesota United may have lost 1-0 to Portland, but anybody watching the game would agree that they almost – and should have – walked away with the win. Though “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, the good showing gave flame to the embers of their offensive prowess. The match against LAFC proved to be even more of an improvement for the black and blue. The defense was shoring up, and the offense had some very dangerous moments. If it weren’t for an insane goal by Carlos Vela, the Loons would have secured three points instead of one. With three matches left, Minnesota will be feeling the pressure to perform, and that added pressure might be all they need to claim those final points of the season.

Sporting Kansas City -

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

SKC has had some good fortune in their recent run of form. Kansas City is unbeaten over their last five matches; however, their good luck may be attributed less to personal achievement and more to the quality of the opponents: Portland (6th) [4-1], San Jose (14th) [1-0], LA Galaxy (8th) [2-2], Houston Dynamo (13th) [0-0], D.C. United (14th) [3-0]. The Timbers and Galaxy are certainly worthy foes, but overall, the unbeaten streak has come against a relatively soft schedule. Historically, Sporting Kansas City has been successful in their playoff push, but this year, the perfect storm of injuries took them straight to Oz. The team has struggled since losing their best players early in the season. It looks as if SKC will have to sit out the 2022 edition of MLS playoffs, though they certainly won’t be pleased about it.

Keys to the Match

Ruby Boots:

Minnesota United finally broke their scoring drought in the match against LAFC, but one goal isn’t always enough to win games – the resulting draw is proof of that. For the coming game with the team from the Wizard of Oz state, MNUFC will need to break out their “ruby boots”, and perhaps do so from beyond the box. Throughout the season, Minnesota has often tried to find outlets within the 18, which can be a successful way to hit the net, but those gaps are often difficult to slot through. Last match saw some unlucky moments from close range, such as Amarilla’s header being blocked by a defender, but the majority of the shots taken from the 6 were off-target (5 out of 7).  Sometimes the combinations simply aren’t there, and attempting to force them does no good. As seen in the last game, goals are possible from outside the 18, and MNUFC has players that are very capable of that. Currently, Minnesota is tied for 20th for goals outside of the 18 (4). Taking more chances from distance could improve that stat, especially when players like Wil Trapp can do this:

The Man Behind the Curtain:

Injured players and yellow card accumulation mean that Minnesota United will be working with a smaller squad than usual. Though Franco Fragapane will be back, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Emanuel Reynoso and possibly Robin Lod will be out of the mix. Adrian Heath has some strings to pull behind the curtain in terms of formation and player rotation. With the team missing major playmakers like Rey, the 3-5-2 formation – the formation that worked well against Portland – might be a good option. Otherwise, Heath will need to find someone to fill the gaps caused by the loss of two major midfield weapons.

Spoiler Alert:

Sporting Kansas City is all but eliminated from the postseason race. Due to this, many people would expect to see a resulting dip in their play, but that’s not necessarily true. While SKC has (virtually) nothing to gain by winning, they also have nothing to lose, which makes them dangerous. Kansas could take bigger chances and risk more on the press. Sometimes taking those wild chances pays off, and without anything holding a team back from that, who knows what could be accomplished? Many teams in similar situations still play to “spoil” other chances at a playoff spot. This underlying knock-out mentality is something that MNUFC must be prepared for when facing Kansas on Saturday. Every year there are teams kept out of the playoffs by teams who have nothing in the race.

Toronto FC is a perfect example of this. Toronto really enjoyed their spoiler position last season, forcing draws with fifth-place Atlanta, second-place Philadelphia, and playoff-hopeful Montreal, who went on to miss out on the playoffs by just two points following their late-season draw with Toronto.