Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United FC
Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
05.13.2023 | MLS Game #11
7:30 p.m. CT (MLS Season Pass, 1500 ESPN)
Hello, fellow waterfowl enthusiasts, we hope this game preview comes to you as your Lamar Hunt-induced heart palpitations have subsided. While the US Open Cup Round of 32 victory was a maddening roller-coaster of emotions from start to finish, the shootout win to advance to the Round of 16 feels like a much-needed bounce back game for the Loons. A win is a win, and even if it has no bearing on the Black and Blue’s MLS regular season record, the positive result couldn’t have come at a better time. Besides holding on to the first victory of the season at the friendly confines of Allianz Field and finally being able to belt out everyone’s favorite in-stadium sing-along song, the Loons were able to overcome some back-breaking last-second Philly goals and kept fighting to get a resulted they desperately needed. Oh, and, goals…there were goals! Now, we turn the page to Rivalry Week and a date with our mortal enemies, Sporting Kansas City. But first, let’s take a quick minute to see where the run of form is at for both squads…even if we’ve kind of started going down that path in this very paragraph.
Minnesota United (3-4-3)
Run of Form: L-W-D-L-W
Obviously, a US Open Cup win is a step in the right direction, but it can’t erase the tough run of form that preceded it. While goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and the defensive front protecting him have continued to be the more balanced part of the lineup, the 3-2 loss to Vancouver showed that the Loons defense isn’t immune to having a bad day. Much like the Loons attack functions, it was the Whitecaps counter attack that had put the backfield on its heels off of some costly midfield turnovers. And, at times, those miscues have come in crunch time situations with the clock running out and, even in a positive result, against Philadelphia this past Tuesday is all too fresh of an example of that. Not just once, but twice. It’s something that needs to be cleaned up, especially for a defensive unit that has proven to be incredibly solid for the majority of the season. Hopefully, those issues are simply a temporary occurrence.
Sporting KC (1-7-3)
Run of Form: L-L-W-L-W
In terms of their overall season, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride for Sporting KC. Aside from a 3-0 win over NPSL club Tulsa Athletic in the US Open Cup Round of 32 on April 25th, KC had been winless on the season. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, as Sporting is coming off their very first win of the MLS regular season. The win was no small feat either, as KC was able to pull the upset against the Sounders in Seattle, a place that is rarely so kind to the visiting side. Now, with the winless weight off their shoulders, Sporting KC comes into its match up with MNUFC with a renewed energy that cannot be underestimated. SKC now has a healthier roster than it had all year, with their Designated Player-triad of forward Alan Pulido and midfielders Gadi Kinda and Eric Thommy all being part of the starting lineup for the first time all season in Seattle. With all three making the scoresheet against the Sounders, this is a developing situation for the KC attack that cannot be overlooked.
Keys to the Game
Let Bongi Beast
Bongokuhle. Freaking. Hlongwane. The potential that Loons fans saw all last season has begun to develop into the scoring threat everybody saw that he could be. But, with Bongi, it isn’t simply his play that is a boost for MNUFC. The young South African brings an energy to this squad that can be notably lagging in times when he isn’t in the lineup. While Bongi wasn’t in the starting XI to start the match, when he was subbed in at the 63rd minute, the dynamic of the game changed. And, Bongi didn’t waste any time in making his presence felt just five minutes after entering the game when Hlongwane headed the ball into the net for the first goal of the game, and striking again in the 103rd minute of the extra period. If that weren’t enough, he also registered the assist on the Joseph Rosales goal in the 74th minute. While his dynamic speed has always been on display, his ever-developing scoring prowess is something that can prove a game changer for the MNUFC attack. And, for a Loons club looking to find goals at a more frequent clip, he couldn’t be hitting his scoring stride at a better time than the present.
Don’t Pay For Costly Turnovers
There’s no denying that some of the turnovers given up by the Loons over the course of the last couple games have been, or could have proven, detrimental to their matches final results. Noticeably, the most costly of these turnovers have been coming at the expense of the midfield, only to see opponent’s quickly go on the counter attack and catch the Loons defensive line out of position. Now that KC has its Designated Player-trifecta of Pulido, Kinda and Thommy all back in the starting lineup, it will be even more imperative for the Loons midfield to be more cognizant of the spacing and passing lanes when opponents are challenging for the ball. If the midfield is able to regain its footing in terms of crisp passing and better ball control, the Loons can eliminate any potential for KC getting a quick, avoidable score.
Mind, Body and Goals
In the progression of this season, it’s been clear to see that the Loons attack is more dangerous off the ball than on it. The opportunities have been there. Attacking players have been in the right spots for clean looks at the goal. If we are to start taking games from opponents with timely, frequent scoring, the attacking front needs to find a way to put mind over matter. Confidence isn’t exactly something you can coach, but it is something that this group of talented attackers can find again. Quick, decisive shots on goal need to become more of the norm when the Loons go on the attack. Finding the net will come, but the fellas in the front half will need to block out the urge to take that extra dribble or make that extra pass in the goal box and just let it rip. As Winston Zeddamore says to his fellow Ghostbusters, “we have the tools…we have the talent…” But now, we need to gain the confidence that comes with converting.