Welcome to a double-duty week for Storylines, in which Minnesota United faces each of their closest rivals in the Western Conference playoff hunt, starting with a midweek trip to Utah for a tantalizing matchup with Real Salt Lake at the always-picturesque Rio Tinto Stadium. In the week’s first edition, Storylines hunts for a new desktop wallpaper, and Minnesota hunts for three more points on the road and a potential club record.
It would be improper to investigate this game without inspecting its significant impact on the Western Conference playoff race for both Minnesota and Salt Lake. The Loons sit third in the Western Conference with 44 points after their comeback 2-1 victory over Houston at the weekend, while Salt Lake are sixth with 39 points, behind Nashville on goal difference after their 1-1 draw with Dallas on Saturday. Both clubs have seven matches remaining in the MLS regular season. Should Minnesota get the victory on Wednesday, they would have an eight-point lead over Salt Lake with just six matches remaining for each, an impressive cushion. Even should the Utah side win, reducing their deficit to just two points, they have the more difficult remaining schedule, with road matches remaining against the West’s top two teams. Minnesota, meanwhile, only faces two (current) playoff teams in their final six games, both in the friendly confines of Allianz Field. Needless to say, both teams will crave the full points from this match, for so many reasons.
It has been two weeks since Minnesota was last on the road, a trip to Tennessee in which they found three points against Nashville SC, points which were more than notable in the Loons MLS history. The victory marked their sixth win on the road in 2022, setting an MLS club record for road victories in a single season, and the points gained gave them 19 road points, also breaking their MLS club record of 17 set in 2019. The Loons set these records with four remaining games on the road, setting themselves up to smash their previous best to smithereens. That said, Minnesota has only the fourth-best road record in the West (LAFC, Austin, Nashville), and eighth-best in MLS. What’s more, a Minnesota win on Wednesday will be unprecedented in this matchup’s history. Three of the four Minnesota-Salt Lake matchups in MLS at the Rio Tinto have ended in draws, most recently a 1-1 draw in May 2021. The only result came in the clubs’ first meeting in Utah, a 1-0 Salt Lake win in 2017. The Loons did win the first matchup of these teams in 2022, a 3-2 thriller in July, but they will make some history if they secure three points on Wednesday.
Man in Form
Real’s success this year has largely been built on their stout defense. They are the only one of the seven Western Conference playoff teams to have scored fewer than 40 goals on the season, and their attack has largely come from team success rather than individual brilliance. Salt Lake has no fewer than ten different players with multiple goals this season (for comparison, Minnesota has just six), but has just one with more than five goals scored (Minnesota has four in that category). That one, striker Sergio Córdova, has been in his finest form of the season lately. While Córdova was held off of the scoresheet in the 1-1 draw with Dallas, he scored in each of Salt Lake’s three previous matches, finding the net in eye-catching fashion in all three contests. Two of the three, the goals against Seattle and Vancouver, were built the same way. Córdova beat the offside trap and was set free by a through-ball from his midfield, craftily working his way around defenders to finish. Minnesota’s center backs will have to be ready to run to keep up with the pace and skill of Córdova.
Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota United FC
Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah
08.31.2022 | MLS Game No. 28
8:30 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North EXTRA, 1500 ESPN)