Storylines is always fond of a story (get it?) of revenge and redemption, and for Minnesota United this weekend, the opportunity to both continue their winning ways and put down the Portland Timbers, who knocked them out of the playoffs last season, is clear and obvious.
Mother Always Said, “Don’t Lose”
By any number of metrics, the Loons are among the hottest teams in the league on the form table, if not the absolute hottest of them all. Minnesota is the only team in MLS to collect 16 or more points from its last six fixtures. However, history tells us that we could almost expect a result from the Loons on Saturday. In each of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons, Minnesota had undefeated streaks of at least seven games, maxing out with 2020’s ten-game sprint into the MLS Cup Playoffs. While no result is expected, Minnesota has an opportunity to match what they have achieved in the last three seasons this weekend, and that opportunity beckons. All that said, a note of caution: one of the only teams with a longer undefeated streak: these very Portland Timbers, on a seven-match streak of their own.
Success Through Adversity
Minnesota’s win last weekend in Houston was notable for a number of reasons, but at the top of the list was a road victory without the talents of Emanuel Reynoso available. Reynoso picked up an injury in Minnesota’s friendly against Everton, and was unavailable for selection for the first time in an MLS match this season. Despite his absence, an inspired performance allowed the Loons to pick up three valuable road points. Both Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Michael Boxall were named to the MLS Team of the Week, with Hlongwane earning a nomination for Player of the Week after his first MLS goal. Hlongwane also had the assist on Minnesota’s first goal, proving to be the catalyst to the Loon victory. Adrian Heath emphasized the importance of the full team in comments from training on Wednesday: “ Rey is obviously a really important piece for us, so for us to get that win and show to people that we don’t just need Rey to score two goals for us to win a game, I think was important. The rest of the group were terrific. I was really pleased with them.” While Reynoso’s availability for this weekend is yet to be determined, the Loons have found success with and without him now, which is quite notable.
Two Tree Terror
Portland’s streak has included a few notable results, including a 3-0 demolition of their hated rivals in Seattle. However, that result is just one of two Portland wins on the road this season; the Timbers have two road draws during their undefeated streak, and beyond those games, the Timbers’ lone other win on the road was in April in Vancouver. During the current run, the Timbers have found inspiration from a two-pronged goal threat, and not the names you might expect from Timbers games of the past. Jarosław Niezgoda, who leads Portland with eight goals on the season, and Dairon Asprilla, tied for second with five of his own, have led Portland’s most recent charge. In three of Portland’s previous four games, both Asprilla and Niezgoda have scored, leading to seven Portland points. In Asprilla’s case, he’s now scored in each of his last three appearances, with a game-winning header sealing the home victory for the Timbers on Saturday. While old nemesis Sebastián Blanco still exists (in case you’ve forgotten, Blanco scored a brace to knock Minnesota out of the playoffs last year), Asprilla and Niezgoda are the form threats that the Loons will need to neutralize.
Minnesota United FC vs. Portland Timbers
Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota
Saturday, July 30 | MLS Regular Season - Game #23
2:00 pm CT (ABC, ESPN Deportes, 1500 ESPN)