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Storylines loves the Rockies, but we’re ecstatic to be back on the ground and back at home. Frankly, the elevation gets to us. Speaking of elevation, the boys continued to elevate their early season form, taking down the Rapids 2-1 and breaking that nasty habit of not winning within Colorado state lines. Obviously, there is a lot of season left to play and, realistically, there will be strikes and gutters, ups and downs along the way. But, after a turbulent offseason that raised more questions than answers going into 2023, the early season success is a credit to Coach Heath’s strategizing and his players’ ability to execute. Contrary to many preseason predictions, MNUFC has shown the ability to adapt without Emanuel Reynoso in the lineup, a pleasant surprise for pundits who thought otherwise before the start of the season. 

In light of the team's encouraging start, this upcoming matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps may up the ante on the whole adapting thing. A number of players will be absent from both sides, with seven Loons and two Whitecaps being called into international duty for their respective home countries. And, those seven players make up a big chunk of the talent that contributed to this season’s fast start: Dayne St. Clair (Canada), Kervin Arriaga (Honduras), Joseph Rosales (Honduras), Robin Lod (Finland), Bongokuhle Hlongwane (South Africa), Michael Boxall (New Zealand) and Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica).

Missing seven of your usual starters? Yep, safe to say those absences will have an impact on the starting XI. But, Coach Heath isn’t about to use that as an excuse for not performing on the field. When asked about this during this week’s training, he made that stance quite clear.

“I did say after the game on Saturday and I will repeat it again: there’s no excuse wherever,” he said. “I will not make an excuse that the fact that we’ve got seven players away this weekend, eight players away. We have a squad of 28 players, and that’s why you have a squad of 28. At some stage, you’re going to be called upon.”

Coach taking on the “next man up” mentality is nothing new. But, for the gaffer, the game against Vancouver is less about player absences and more about who will seize the opportunity to stand out. 

“I look at the likes of Cameron Dunbar,” Heath said. “He’s had a great preseason, worked really, really hard. This is a big opportunity for him this weekend. Some of the younger guys will be on the bench and maybe get on the field, so when one door closes, it opens for other people. As Dayne [St. Clair] proved last year, opportunities can come along and if you take them, it can be a career-changing decision sometimes.”

Since his arrival from LA Galaxy, Heath has been high on Dunbar’s play, pointing out his tireless work effort and his drive to get better each day. With Dunbar likely to find himself in the starting XI on Saturday, he’ll have that opportunity to show off the attacking prowess Coach Heath believes he can bring to the lineup.

In addition to Dunbar, the Loons will get to see another new addition to the roster, veteran keeper Clint Irwin, as he will get his first minutes while filling in for St Clair. While it may be a tall order to overtake St Clair’s spot in goal, Irwin's experience at this level is incredibly valuable to the club and could prove to be more so if the team gets bitten by the injury bug down the road.

The Vancouver side will take less of a hit to their starting XI, with defender Javain Brown (Jamaica) and midfielder Andres Cubas (Paraguay) being the only two ‘Caps called into international duty. While that may have an impact on how the Whitecaps approach the game, the club’s 2022 Player of the Year, Ryan Gauld, will be there in the midfield to make things difficult for whoever starts in the Loons backline. 

The Whitecaps may be entering the contest winless on the season, but they will definitely have revenge on their mind. The end of their 2022 season was at Allianz Field, where the Loons ended Vancouver’s dreams of sneaking into the MLS Playoffs on Decision Day. While this game may not have the same implications as last time—with seven players out and reserves occupying the pitch for MNUFC—the Canadians will be looking to find and exploit any cracks in Minnesota’s armor.


Minnesota United FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Allianz Field | St. Paul, MN

03.25.2023 | MLS Week No. 5 | MLS Game #4

7:30 p.m. CT (MLS Season Pass, 1500 ESPN)