MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO
TCF Bank Stadium | Minneapolis, Minnesota
4.28.18 | MLS Week #9 | MLS Game #8
7:00 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North, MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN)
MIN: 2-5-0; 1-1-0 at home
HOU: 2-2-2; 0-0-2 on the road
Currently riding a four-match losing streak, the Loons are hoping the friendly confines of TCF Bank Stadium can help give them a boost as they look to get back on track with the first of five of six at home after opening the season with five of seven on the road. The Dynamo are feeling themselves after a sound 5-1 thrashing of Toronto FC, even if they were mostly playing the reserves. The two sides will meet on Saturday, April 28 at 7:00 p.m. CT on the pitch at TCF Bank Stadium, with pre-match coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
The most pressing concern for Head Coach Adrian Heath and his men is the defense, and not just the back four but everyone in front of them as well. MNUFC has made a habit of conceding a goal early and then surrendering another in short order before coming alive and mounting spirited but too often inadequate comebacks later in the match. Heath doesn’t want to sound like a broken record, but there’s little he can do but state the facts.
“We’ve given ourselves a mountain to climb every single game,” he said, referring to the team’s four-match losing streak. “You know, it’s three times it’s happened where we’ve conceded two goals very quickly. Normally around the 25th minute, or somewhere around there. And it’s difficult to take, because at times it’s certainly not a system thing. It’s individual errors, a breakdown of communication, lack of concentration. And then we come out and give ourselves a real opportunity, a good second half performance. But as I’ve said, three goals again, on the road, we ain’t winning many games.”
For defender Michael Boxall, he acknowledges the pressure that injuries and call-ups have placed on the defense — MNUFC have not played the same back four in any of the recent losses and will once again be missing Tyrone Mears — but he also feels that can’t be used an excuse. The Loons, in his estimation, have to get back to the form that got them wins on the road against Orlando City and at home against Chicago Fire earlier in the season.
“I think we’ve gone a long way from what we were — when we were tough to beat on the road in Orlando, seems like a long time ago — and obviously our performances are not at that standard, so we just need to go back to that,” he said. “And get everyone back to being so much more compact behind the ball. The weekend against Seattle, we were just too far open, and letting the midfielders turn too often. We can’t do that on the road against any team in this league.”
An ACL tear robbed Minnesota United of another key piece last weekend when midfielder Ethan Finlay went down. He will miss the rest of the season, just like Kevin Molino, who went down with an ACL tear against Orlando. Add in Sam Cronin — the tough holding midfielder who has struggled with the lingering effects of a concussion — and that’s three players who would almost certainly be starters who are gone.
“It’s a huge blow,” said forward Christian Ramirez, who became the first MNUFC forward to score this season last week with a header. “A guy like Ethan [Finlay] has a presence in the locker room and on the field. His experience in this league, his leadership has been such an asset since we acquired him last year. It’s tough for him, and I know he’ll do everything to get back as fast as possible, and get back even stronger next year. But my thoughts and prayers are with him as he recovers now, and for us now, it’s the next man up. Guys like Miguel [Ibarra], Sam Nicholson, have that responsibility to perform, and get more performances out of them to cover for that void.”
Minnesota United will also be relying on two other things in its upcoming matches to help compensate for that loss: the support of the fans at TCF Bank Stadium and the burgeoning chemistry between midfielder Darwin Quintero — who has a goal and an assist, plus was the catalyst for a Portland own goal, in his first two matches — and his teammates, particular Ramirez. Against Seattle, Quintero lofted a lovely little ball across the goal from the right to pick out a waiting Ramirez on the left side of the six-yard box for a headed goal.
“I think I fit well with what he expects out of a center forward,” said Ramirez. “His movement is really precise and dangerous. Makes for havoc on the defense. That freedom role with us, where, you saw last weekend, he was out wide, and Miguel [Ibarra] covered for him in the midfield, because he felt the match up out there that he wanted to exploit. It’s that type of freedom that makes him so dangerous.”
Against Portland and Seattle — two of the tougher teams to play in their homes in the MLS — the Loons played matches that could have easily ended up draws, with a scrappy comeback against Portland falling just short and a late goal by Seattle pushing the match out of reach. Heath is realistic about the challenges facing his team, but he also feels it’s premature to take the measure of them until they’ve gotten through this next stretch of home matches, especially given that they’ll be working to integrate both Maximiano and Alexi Gomez.
“I thought were excellent against Atlanta,” said Heath, referring back to the team’s 1-0 loss on an own goal. “We won the game against Chicago. You look at the backend of last season, and we were good at home. We’ve got five of the next six at home. Then the schedule will have evened itself out. Let’s see where we are then. I think it will give us a better picture of where we are in this league.”
Minnesota United will next welcome Vancouver Whitecaps FC to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, May 5 at 1:00 p.m. CT with pre-match coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North and MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.
M – Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction)
M – Kevin Molino (left ACL tear)
M – Ethan Finlay (right ACL tear)
D – Tyrone Mears (lower legs)
F – Abu Danladi (right ankle sprain)
D – A.J. DeLaGarza (torn left ACL)
M – Juan David Cabezas (left quad injury)
D – Philippe Senderos (right hamstring injury)
D – George Malki (left knee sprain)
D – Dylan Remick (concussion)
D – Kevin Garcia (left hamstring injury)
- Houston was one of two teams to play MNUFC three times in 2017. The Dynamo came out on top in the season series with a win and two draws.
- Sam Nicholson scored his first goal for MNUFC against Houston in a 2-1 defeat on September 30, 2017.
- Miguel Ibarra is the only Loon with multiple assists this campaign.
- Bobby Shuttleworth made his first start for MNUFC in 2018 last week. He made four saves in the match, boosting his MNUFC career record total to 120.
- Ibson has suffered 18 fouls so far this season, the seventh-most in MLS.
- Alberth Elis has taken the second-most shots in MLS this year with 32. His 16 shots on target are the most in the league.
- Minnesota’s goalkeepers have made 26 saves this season, tied for the fourth-highest total in MLS.
- The Dynamo have put 45.5% of their shots on target this year, good enough for the second-best percentage in the league.
- Minnesota has played five of its seven matches this year on the road. Only LAFC has played more road matches so far this season.
- Houston is one of 10 teams that has yet to win on the road in 2018.
- Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley was last year’s MLS Fair Play Award winner.
- Last week, Houston and Toronto FC combined for 12 shots on goal in the second half, the highest combined total in a half this season.
- Adolfo Machado and Francisco Calvo played together at Saprissa in 2015–16.
- Darwin Ceren played under Adrian Heath at Orlando City SC from 2014 through 2016.