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Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United FC | 2018 MLS Match Preview

SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
08.25.2018 | MLS Week No. 26 | MLS Game No. 26
7:30 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North Plus, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN)

2018 Records:
SKC: 12-6-6, 7-2-3 at home
MIN: 9-14-2, 1-10-1 on the road

For the third time this season, Minnesota United renews acquaintances with Sporting Kansas City this weekend in the third game of the Loons’ current five-game road trip. Sporting KC — the Western Conference’s No. 2 team — is coming off of a 3-0 home win over Portland Timbers, boasts a three-game winning streak and has not conceded a goal over that stretch.

The MLS Rivalry Week match-up between MNUFC and SKC kicks off at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, August 25 from Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Pre-game coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.

“They are very good at home,” Head Coach Adrian Heath said. “It is a really difficult place to go. They have done really well. It is going to be difficult for us this weekend, but we have to go there with as much confidence as we can. Can we come up with a game plan that frustrates them and take our opportunities when they arrive?”

Though the game ended as a 2-0 loss, Minnesota was encouraged by its defensive effort in its last outing against FC Dallas and believes it provides a solid foundation to build on moving forward. The MNUFC defenders managed to frustrate Dallas for 40-plus minutes on the road and did not look likely to concede until a VAR-aided opening goal that forced the Loons to open up a little more in hopes of equalizing.

“We showed in Dallas that we can keep our lines tight together and make teams play wide,” defender Eric Miller said. “We stuck in our shape and they didn’t have any huge chances in the first half, which was really good. The biggest takeaway is the knowledge that we are able to go on the road, set up shop and make it hard for them to play. We just have to maintain our discipline for the whole 90 minutes.”

Minnesota’s defense will have to be up to the task in Sporting KC’s hostile home environment this weekend. Children’s Mercy Park is traditionally one of the hardest venues in MLS for visiting sides to succeed in, as evidenced by SKC’s sterling 7-2-3 home record this season. It has certainly been a house of horrors for MNUFC since entering the league. Including last season’s U.S. Open Cup clash, the Loons are winless in three trips to Kansas City and have been outscored 11-1 in those contests.

Miller has tasted success on the road against Sporting KC, winning 2-1 there with Colorado Rapids in 2016. He said the key for Minnesota this weekend is to be smart with the ball and not let SKC’s up-tempo style of play dictate the pace in order to open up space going the other way.

“A lot of it is slowing the game down and taking the crowd out of the game,” Miller said. “They play such a high-octane, high-energy style and the crowd really builds off of and feeds off of that. You have to make sure you are keeping the ball and taking the momentum and the energy our of the crowd and hopefully their team as well.

“They really leave themselves open and exposed,” he added. “If you can be good on the counter you can get chances there.”

Minnesota will benefit from having both defender Francisco Calvo and midfielder Collen Warner again available for selection after serving their one-game suspensions in Dallas. Their absences forced Heath to opt for a 4-3-3 shape instead of the usual 3-5-2. After falling behind, that change too often left the Loons open at the back as they struggled to strike a balance between getting enough players forward and maintaining a strong defensive shape.

The 3-5-2 has helped MNUFC find that happy medium this season, allowing it to get extra bodies forward while still maintaining its defensive rigidity. Having Calvo and Warner back allows Heath the option to return to that look against Sporting Kansas City, which could be the boost Minnesota needs.

“We know the way they are going to set up,” Heath said. “Now can we come up with a plan that stifles them and maybe gives us an opportunity on the break? The more players we have available, the better it will be. The one thing last weekend showed is without four or five of our better players it is difficult for us on the road at this moment.”

After its trip to Kansas City, Minnesota United has a two-and-a-half-week international break ahead of a visit to MLS’s newest venue, Audi Field, to face D.C. United on Wednesday, September 12. That contest kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT with pre-game coverage commencing at 6:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on 1500 ESPN.

INJURY REPORT

Minnesota United FC
OUT: 
M - Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction)
M - Kevin Molino (left ACL tear)
M - Ethan Finlay (right ACL tear)

QUESTIONABLE:
F - Darwin Quintero (right lower leg)

Sporting Kansas City
OUT:
D - Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery)
F - Khiry Shelton (right MCL tear, lateral meniscus tear)
D/M - Brad Evans (Achilles injury)
M - Cristian Lobato (quad injury)

FIRST TOUCHES

  • On Tuesday, August 21, MNUFC announced the signing of Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernando Bob. He most recently featured for Internacional in Brazil’s Serie A.
  • Francisco Calvo and Collen Warner return to the squad for the trip to Sporting Kansas City after serving one-game suspensions for a red card and yellow card accumulation, respectively.
  • In the five-game MLS series between MNUFC and Sporting KC, the away team has never won.
  • Tyrone Mears in the only MNUFC player with a goal in Children’s Mercy Park (in 11th minute of 4-1 loss on June 3).
  • Darwin Quintero scored the equalizing goal for MNUFC when Sporting KC last visited TCF Bank Stadium on May 20.
  • Five different Loons have scored the team’s five goals against Sporting KC. Mears, Quintero, Abu Danladi and Brent Kallman are the scorers currently on the roster.
  • Danladi and Miguel Ibarra each have two assists against Sporting KC. Ibarra got both of his on May 7, 2017 — a 2-0 win for the Loons.
  • Since joining MNUFC, Bobby Shuttleworth has made 30 saves against Sporting KC.
  • Shuttleworth and Tim Melia have one clean sheet apiece in this series.
  • Shuttleworth set the club single-game saves record against Sporting KC on May 20, 2018. He made nine saves to preserve a 1-1 draw at home.
  • Diego Rubio is the only player with multiple goals (2) in the all-time series between these two teams in MLS.
  • This is the sixth regular-season meeting between these two teams. MNUFC has faced Sporting KC more than any MLS opponent.
  • This is the Loons’ third and final game against Sporting KC during the 2018 regular season. MNUFC has gone 0-1-1 (two goals for, five against).
  • MNUFC makes its second trip to Children’s Mercy Park of 2018 this weekend. Last season, Sporting Kansas City traveled to TCF Bank Stadium for two of the three regular-season meetings.
  • Saturday’s match will be the midway point of a five-game road trip for MNUFC.
  • Two Sporting KC players won end-of-season awards in 2017. Ike Opara was named MLS Defender of the Year, while Melia won Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year.
  • The Loons will be away from MLS action for over two weeks. They will not play another match until September 12 at D.C. United.
  • Sam Cronin and Ike Opara were teammates at Wake Forest in 2007 and 2008.
  • Ethan Finlay, Brent Kallman and Seth Sinovic were teammates at Creighton University in 2009. Sinovic later played with Bobby Shuttleworth from 2010 to 2011 with the New England Revolution.
  • Peter Vermes and Manny Lagos were teammates on the New York/New Jersey MetroStars for the inaugural MLS season in 1996. Lagos played the 1997 season on the MetroStars with current Sporting KC Assistant Coach Kerry Zavagnin.
  • Collen Warner and Tim Melia were teammates on Real Salt Lake in 2010 and 2011.
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