Darwin vs. Philadelphia
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Minnesota United FC vs. Philadelphia Union | 2019 MLS Match Preview

MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
06.02.2019 | MLS Week No. 14 | MLS Game No. 15
3:00 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North+, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)

2019 Records:
PHI: 7-4-4, 2-2-2 on the road
MIN: 6-5-3, 3-0-3 at home

Minnesota United returns home following a disappointing midweek game against Atlanta that ended with a 3-0 result that looked worse than it really was. The Loons welcome the Philadelphia Union to Allianz Field for the first time for the team’s third annual Pride Game in MLS, and will have to prepare for a team that’s sat atop the Eastern Conference on short rest. Union Head Coach Jim Curtin has gotten results out of a balanced squad with threats and stout defense in equal measure all over the field. MNUFC will have its work cut out for it if it hopes to keep its home unbeaten streak alive.

The game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.

Against Atlanta, the team was lacking one of the linchpins of its starting lineup: right back Romain Metanire — an absolute force on both offense and defense down the right side of the pitch — had to sit out the game due to yellow card accumulation. To compensate for that and also in an attempt to stymie Atlanta’s attacking prowess, Head Coach Adrian Heath opted for a 3-5-2 formation instead of the team’s usual 4-2-3-1. Miguel Ibarra and Hassani Dotson — who got his second start in as many games — were positioned out wide as wingbacks while the trio of Michael Boxall, Ike Opara and Brent Kallman patrolled in front of goal. It largely worked, with Atlanta’s lone goal in regulation coming from a deflected pass that fell at the feet of defender Franco Escobar in the box. A specious non-goal in the 75th minute for the Loons led to the visitors tossing everything they had forward and eventually allowing a pair of goals to forward Josef Martinez in stoppage time.

“Overall I was pleased with the way that we set up,” said Heath. “I thought we had a good defensive shape, didn't concede too many opportunities. In the 75th minute, we have that sort of goalmouth incident, which I'm still wondering why it wasn't reviewed the way that it normally is reviewed because certainly in some of the photographs I've seen since, there's enough evidence there that it needed to be checked. But they decided not to, which was strange, and I thought that at that moment in the game, we were the most likely to get the next goal. They were changing their shape to go more defensive, taking attacking people off. To look at the result at the end of the day, 3-0, probably didn't do us justice and certainly wasn't a fair reflection of how the game went.”

For Opara, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the May 11 game against the Fire in Chicago, it was a game they should have taken more from, and the 3-0 loss was particularly hard to stomach.

“Really I wanted to win the game, let’s be clear there, but if it had [stayed] 1-0, there were a lot of things we did well,” he said. “But then to have collapsed in stoppage time, you lose 3-0, you kind of go home feeling like the world’s ending and only seeing negatives from that game, where I think there were some positives. You build off of that, keep it in perspective and I think everyone in this team should learn from what we experienced and myself included.”

With Metanire returning to the fray and homefield advantage, expect MNUFC to do its best to get out on the front foot against the Union. The team remains undefeated at home and, since the 3-3 draw in the home opener against NYCFC, the Loons have only allowed one goal in five games, including three 1-0 clean sheet wins. Despite the scoring drought at home, Minnesota still has more goals than 11 teams in the league and Heath isn’t ready to sound the alarm just yet.

“The last few weeks, I don't think we've been as sharp as we would like to be. Numerous different things: final ball at times, our movement's not been good enough,” he said. “But we'll keep working. This group of players has proved that they can score goals in this league this year. The last two weeks have not been great but we have to keep believing these guys are going to turn it around for us.” 

The Union present a bit of a unique challenge for MNUFC. While Minnesota has proven proficient at shutting down stars at Allianz Field, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, Philly presents a many-headed hydra without a standout focal point of attack. Their leading scorer, David Accam, was traded to Columbus on May 8 and the team now boasts seven players with at least two goals. The backline is led by centerbacks Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty, and the team’s +9 goal differential is second only to LAFC’s frankly unreal +25.

“They’re a little unpredictable in their attack, and that’s a good thing, because you don’t know where the source of their goal is coming from; whether it’s the nine, or the six or their winger, their set pieces and that makes it tough to defend a team that don’t necessarily have a focus on, or focal point in their attack,” said Opara. “Jim Curtin has done a really good job with that team, and defensively they’re pretty sound — they’ve got a lot of young talent and [get] more vertical this year than years past, and they press so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Heath echoed these observations in assessing the threat presented by Philadelphia’s attack.

“They have a little bit of everything,” he said. “Ilsinho plays out wide — one-on-one [he's] probably as good as anybody in the league. Got incredible skills. [Fafa] Picault up front is incredibly quick. They set different sorts of problems for you. I think the most important thing is that if we think that we can just turn up on Sunday and the result will just take care of itself, that's not going to happen. We're going to have to make it happen.”

The good news for Minnesota United is that they have been making it happen — despite being off in their finishing — at Allianz Field. As Heath said in his press conference following the 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo, if the team’s identity means rugged 1-0 wins, he’s fine with it so long as it means wins. Allianz Field has been good to the Loons, but he’s quick to point out that TCF Bank Stadium was as well. It’s mostly, he figures, down to the supporters.

“If you look at this league, more than most teams in most leagues in Europe, most of the teams pick up points at home. It's notoriously difficult to win on the road,” he said. “You look at our record, even when we were in TCF Bank [Stadium] and it wasn't our own home, but that was where we got most of our points. I expect the same at this place. It's been fantastic for us since we got there. Our support has been incredible within the stadium. We need to keep that buzz in the stadium and as I've said to the players, the onus is on us to create that excitement by the way that we play, by the way we go about trying to win the game, by playing in the opposing half. Opportunities, crosses, get the ball in the box. Keep the crowd excited. If we do that, I believe we can win most games at home.”

Minnesota United’s next game is on Saturday, June 8 against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park at 8:00 p.m. CT. Pregame coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.

INJURY REPORT

Minnesota United FC

  • OUT: GK – Bobby Shuttleworth (right knee)
  • OUT: D – Carter Manley (left leg)
  • QUESTIONABLE: D – Chase Gasper (left hamstring)

Philadelphia Union – none

FIRST TOUCHES

  • Romain Metanire and Brent Kallman were named to the MLS Team of the Week for Week 13. This was Metanire’s second consecutive, and fourth total, appearance on the Team of the Week.
  • Metanire returns to the squad after serving a one-game suspension on Wednesday’s game in Atlanta for yellow card accumulation.
  • The Loons have kept clean sheets in their last two home games.
  • Minnesota has conceded just once in the last four games at Allianz Field.
  • The Union handed the Loons their worst loss of the year in 2018, putting up a 5-1 rout at Talen Energy Stadium. The game is tied for the largest margin of defeat on the road for Minnesota in MLS.
  • Philadelphia is the only Eastern Conference team, excluding expansion team FC Cincinnati, the Loons have not beaten since joining MLS in 2017.
  • This game finishes off a string of five games in 15 days for Loons.
  • MNUFC lost its third-consecutive road game on Wednesday, falling 3-0 to Atlanta United.
  • The Union are now winless in their last three games after drawing 1-1 with Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night.
  • Philadelphia is 2-2-2 on the road this year, while Minnesota is 3-0-3.
  • Mason Toye made his first MLS appearance of the season on Wednesday night. He came on as a substitute in the 64th minute.
  • Vito Mannone set a new club shutout streak on Wednesday night. He kept a clean sheet for 259 minutes.
  • Mannone’s 40 saves is the seventh-highest total in MLS.
  • On Wednesday, Ike Opara made his first start since May 11. He was out of the starting lineup for two games due to injury.
  • Philadelphia has scored 25 goals, the second-most in MLS.
  • The Loons have the fifth-highest scoring rate in the league at 12.1%, but the second-lowest accuracy at 28.7%
  • Both teams have five shutouts so far this season.
  • Minnesota United was drawn to host Sporting Kansas City in the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup. The game will take place on Wednesday, June 12 at 7:00 p.m. CT. This will be the fourth meeting between the teams in the Open Cup since 2014.
  • The Open Cup game will be the first MNUFC has hosted since 2016.
  • Union Head Coach Jim Curtin and MNUFC Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee were teammates in 2001 and 2002 with the Chicago Fire.
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