Today’s matchup against Sporting Kansas City will mark the fifth time that the Loons have visited Children’s Mercy Park as an MLS squad. In their previous four attempts, Minnesota United has failed to get any kind of result at the home of SKC, dropping three league games and bowing out of the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2017.
Here’s what you should look for come 8:30 p.m. CT tonight…
Snapping the Streak
2019 has been a groundbreaking year for Minnesota United as it has redefined its identity as a hardworking, blue-collar team that can grind out tough results. In the process, the Loons have shattered records previously set in Minnesota’s early days as an MLS franchise – including most wins in a season, most goals scored in a season and a growing record total of MLS points. The conditions are ripe for this new-identity Minnesota United side to break their duck and win at Children’s Mercy Park for the first time in club history.
Going into the Minnesota United’s 2019 U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round tilt with Sporting KC, Head Coach Adrian Heath was facing a barrage of questions about a stalling MNUFC attack that had scored six goals in its last nine games across all competitions. To make matters worse, the Loons were riding a three-game losing streak in MLS play. Responding to the noise in emphatic fashion, the Loons blew out SKC 4-1 in a dominant performance at Allianz Field. The win began an 11-game unbeaten streak from MNUFC in which it scored a resounding 31 goals. Heath now faces similar questions as Minnesota’s attack has stopped firing on all cylinders – averaging a single goal per game in its last five at Allianz Field. Can MNUFC put together another impressive attacking display that gets it back on track heading into the home stretch of the season?
A Different One-Two Punch
As Angelo Rodriguez limped off the field with a hamstring injury on Saturday night, a hurried Abu Danladi sprinted up and down the touchline to get warm before entering the fray against Orlando City SC. Mason Toye – who had been so impressive in recent action – was missing due to suspension after an incident that occurred against FC Dallas. Danladi was the hero on the night as his goal in stoppage time preserved a point for Minnesota United. Toye and Danladi are expected to feature in tonight’s showdown with SKC so look for Heath to rely on the pair of strikers to lead Minnesota’s line.
Guess Who’s Back?
We’ve all heard about it, we all knew that it was coming – Ike Opara returns to Children’s Mercy Park for the first time since departing from his former team. The 2017 MLS Defender of the Year makes his SKC homecoming amid another career year for the centerback, this time for the Loons. Opara was signed by Minnesota United this summer and has drastically improved a defense that leaked goals in its first two years in MLS. It’s worth mentioning “The Ike Opara Effect”: In 2017, Opara and SKC had an expected goals against (xGA) per game of only .93, which was the best in the league. This was a stark contrast to Minnesota’s 1.86 xGA per game in 2017. Two years and a move to Minnesota later, Opara and the Minnesota defense now boasts a rate of 1.29 xGA per game and have let in only 36 goals this season – the third best rate in the Western Conference. Look for Opara to be at the top of his game against his former team as he continues to put together an undeniable campaign for 2019 MLS Defender of the Year.