VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
BC Place | Vancouver, British Columbia
03.02.2019 | MLS Week No. 1 | MLS Game No. 1
5:00 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
Official Watch Party, Presented By Summit Brewing Company: City Works Minneapolis
VAN: 13-13-8, 7-5-5 at home
MIN: 11-20-3, 1-14-2 on the road
The start of the 2019 MLS season finds Minnesota United on the road for the first game of a five-game road trip that will end with the opening of Allianz Field on April 13. But before they can get there, they’ll have to go through Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. Both MNUFC and the Whitecaps have gone through big changes in the offseason, with the Loons bringing in MLS veterans Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara and signing their third Designated Player, Jan Gregus. Vancouver has gone through even more turnover, second only to expansion side FC Cincinnati in terms of new player acquisitions to go along with new head coach Marc Dos Santos. Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Defender Ike Opara brings an impressive resume to the team. Besides winning MLS Cup in 2013 and two U.S. Open Cup championships in 2015 and 2017 with Sporting Kansas City, Opara won MLS Defender of the Year in 2017. SKC allowed a stingy 29 goals that season — a total that’s less than half what MNUFC has allowed the past two season (70 and 71 goals, respectively). Tasked with leading the backline, Opara emphasizes the importance of communication and chemistry.
“I'm going to try to put guys in good positions to make plays defensively,” he says. “I think that's going to be a key to minimizing their opportunities. Being on the road, [our guys] might be jacked up their first game of the year and that has its challenges. So get guys in good positions to make smart plays and at the end of the day, if you're able to do that, I like our chances of keeping a shutout but more so, giving us the opportunity to get a point or three.”
Head Coach Adrian Heath echoed Opara’s point about defensive shape and positioning within the context of how to prepare for an opponent like Vancouver who are largely an unknown quantity. While Dos Santos has had success at lower levels — leading the Swope Park Rangers to the USL final in 2016 and the San Francisco Deltas to an NASL Soccer Bowl win over the New York Cosmos in 2017 — this will be his first time helming an MLS team. The Whitecaps have also seen Alphonso Davies, Kei Kamara, Brek Shea, Kendall Waston and Cristian Techera depart while adding new pieces including forward Fredy Montero and Korean international Hwang In-beom in central midfield. That much turnover presents a challenge.
“We can only prepare as best we can,” says Heath. “We can't worry about what they're going to do after we've laid down what we think is going to happen. I'm more concerned how we approach the game. We've worked really hard at our defensive shape, getting back in shape in transition. I've always thought this team can score goals. Now we've got a little bit more of a solid base. It's been well-documented that we've conceded too many goals on the road. We think we've rectified that. I think we'll be better at set pieces with the delivery and the size that we've brought into the team.”
In addition to the 6-foot-2-inch Opara, the Loons have added Gregus’ 6-foot-3-inch frame to the mix, with the added dimension that his service on free kicks can be just as much of a threat as his size when getting on the end of set pieces. MNUFC will be looking for a big boost in that department overall after scoring only three goals off set pieces in 2018, plus have put an emphasis on succeeding away from home. They took all three points in just one road game last season and now must cope with five in a row to start the year.
“Honestly, now being my tenth year, you take it a game at a time,” says Opara of the road trip. “The focus shouldn't be to look at the overall five games, you should just look at it in the sense of one game. You try to get three points from each game and at the end of the five games, you can look back and say, 'Okay, this is what we did well, this is what we didn't do well.' Honestly I haven't thought about the mental grind because I've been so focused on one game at a time and Vancouver's the first opposition.”
Heath is right on the same page — they can only focus on the opponent in front of them.
“You want to get that first W on the board,” says Heath. “You want to get some points on the board, because you know the longer it goes, the more people keep talking about it. It's a difficult start. Five on the road is never easy. You only have to look at how many points garner at home throughout the league. We've got 17 home, 17 away — these five on the road? Let's get them out of the way and see what we can do.”
Minnesota United’s next game will see them head down the West Coast a ways to face San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, March 9. That game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC
- OUT: M - Kevin Molino (left knee injury)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
- OUT: M - Michael Baldisimo (left ankle contusion)
- OUT: D - Jasser Khmiri (left knee injury)
- OUT: D - Brett Levis (right hamstring strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: M - Russell Teibert (left ankle strain)
- Michael Boxall played the 2011 season with Vancouver Whitecaps FC after being taken by the club in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft.
- Zac MacMath and Eric Miller played together on the Colorado Rapids from 2016 until Miller was traded to MNUFC in2018.
- Felipe and Miller were teammates on Montreal Impact during the 2014 season.
- Andrew Rose played with Osvaldo Alonso from 2012 through 2015 on Seattle Sounders FC.
- Fredy Montero and Alonso were on the inaugural MLS roster for Seattle and were teammates from 2009 through 2014.
- MNUFC Assistant Coach Mark Watson played for Whitecaps FC in 2005, when the club competed in USL.
- The Loons and Whitecaps FC split the 2018 series with a win each. Minnesota scrapped to a 1-0 home win, and failed to comeback on the road as it fell 4-2 in Vancouver.
- Minnesota and Vancouver were league opponents prior to both clubs joining MLS. They last met in the USSF Division 2 Pro League in 2010.
- New Whitecaps FC Head Coach Marc Dos Santos coached Ottawa Fury against MNUFC during its NASL era.
- Darwin Quintero led MNUFC in nearly all offensive categories in 2018. He had 11 goals, 15 assists, 78 shots, 32 on target and 85 corner kicks.
- Quintero led the Loons with five MLS Team of the Week appearances last year, and was the only one to win Player of the Week.
- The last meeting with Vancouver was in the middle of a six-game point streak for Quintero. He assisted both of the Loons’ goals in a 4-2 loss to Whitecaps FC.
- Miguel Ibarra was just behind Quintero in the offensive stats. He had seven goals and eight assists and appeared in all but one game in 2018.
- This is the first season since joining MLS that MNUFC will not play its home games on artificial turf.
- Minnesota is 1-2-1 against Vancouver in MLS games and has not yet won at BC Place.
- MNUFC added its third Designated Player, Jan Gregus, during the offseason. The Slovakia international comes to Minnesota from FC Copenhagen in the Danish Superliga.
- Vancouver’s top three goalscorers from 2018, Kei Kamara, Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera, are no longer with the team this season.
- MNUFC opens the 2019 season with five road games.
- The Loons will face three Western Conference opponents in the opening three weeks, making their way down the West Coast of the continent. Starting in Vancouver, the Loons then head to play the San Jose Earthquakes and complete the journey against the LA Galaxy.
- Minnesota went undefeated in its preseason fixtures, with a record of 4-0-2 while scoring 12 goals and conceding just two. The Loons kept a clean sheet in five consecutive games.
- Both teams failed to qualify for the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
- Vancouver led MLS with eight red cards in 2018.
- In 2018, Whitecaps FC scored half of its goals in the final 30 minutes of its games.