The MLS Cup Playoffs are upon us, and Storylines is thrilled to keep the season going after Minnesota United clinched their spot in a dramatic Sunday afternoon victory at Allianz Field. While the likelihood of another game at home is small, the chance to win more games remains, and the Loons’ first task takes them deep into the heart of Texas once again for their third match of the season with FC Dallas, this one for all the marbles.
As the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Minnesota will have the privilege of traveling for as long as they can continue to win, unless seventh-seeded Real Salt Lake finds a way through their Texas matchup against Austin. The Loons will have to find the road form that was a hallmark of their summer success, but which has recently eluded them. As has been noted several times on these pages in the past, the Loons secured a club-best 19 points and six victories on the road this year; however, each of those past acknowledgements came with the caveat that there were more regular season games to play. Minnesota’s drop in form in September was not helped by their work on the road, as the Loons lost each of their last four road games of the year by a combined score of 10-1. This is not to say that they are faced by an impossible task; among the many positive signs, one of Minnesota’s six road victories this season was in Toyota Stadium itself, as they vanquished some past demons for their first road victory against Dallas in club history. Four of those six wins came against playoff teams. The Loons found their goalscoring form against Vancouver on Sunday; the road resilience must come back next.
As the regular season ends, Minnesota and Dallas have a weird numerical parallel. Both clubs finished the regular season with 48 goals scored, including two own goals each. This was the median number of goals in MLS this season. The clubs took advantage of hot streaks at different times to get there; Minnesota’s finest form was in the summer, while Dallas both started and finished the season strong, securing five wins in their final nine matches to clinch the West’s third seed. The Loons’ offense was wide, with 15 different players scoring goals during the season and four players with more than five goals each; Dallas’ was tall, as just 11 players scored goals, but Jesus Ferreira’s 18 goals (good for fourth in the Golden Boot standings) were almost double Minnesota’s highest individual scorer (Emanuel Reynoso with 10). Ferreira scored the third goal the last time these two teams saw each other, as Dallas rolled to a 3-0 win at Allianz Field in September. In the Loons’ 2-1 win over Dallas in May, the Loons got goals from Robin Lod (his most recent goal) and DJ Taylor (his only goal of the season). Both Taylor and Lod had chances against Vancouver, will the sight of Toyota Stadium inspire them to further success? Or will Ferreira find playoff success after a great season?
While the clubs were statistically similar in attack, Dallas excelled in defense. The Texas club finished with just 37 goals allowed on the season, the second best defense in the entire league. Minnesota’s task will be figuring out how to break them down if they hope to progress. Dallas allowed exactly one goal in each of their final four games of the regular season, which featured two wins, one draw and one loss. The goals: a Graham Zusi low shot through traffic for Kansas City, a low shot in a counterattack by Colorado’s Diego Rubio, a bottom-corner penalty by Jeremy Ebobisse for San Jose after a handball in the box from a free kick and a chipped finish by LAFC’s Cristian Arango from a through-ball. Take Arango’s exceptional finish out, and each goal Maarten Paes let in through the last three games was to one of the two lower corners of his goal, with Rubio’s shot and Ebobisse’s penalty hitting almost the same exact spot. The Dallas defense does not allow many quality opportunities; in four of their last five matches, including the match between these two clubs at Allianz Field, the Texas side held their opposition to 1.0 expected goals or less. When the chances do come for Minnesota, keeping a low profile might be a key to success.
FC Dallas vs. Minnesota United FC
Toyota Stadium | Frisco, Texas
10.17.2022 | MLS Cup Playoffs
8:30 p.m. CT (FS1, FOX Deportes, 1500 ESPN)