LOS ANGELES FOOTBALL CLUB vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Banc of California Stadium | Los Angeles, California
09.01.19 | MLS Week No. 26 | MLS Game No. 28
9:30 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North+, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
LFC: 19-3-5 (11-0-2 at home)
MIN: 12-9-6 (4-8-1 on the road)
Days after a narrow defeat to Atlanta United in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup Final, Minnesota United looks to get back on track in MLS play as it travels to Banc of California to take on the league-leading Los Angeles Football Club. In just its second MLS season, LAFC has all but run away with the Supporters Shield and were the first team to clinch a playoff spot — with nine games to play. With attacking firepower led by the presumptive 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela and a suffocating defensive press, LA Football Club has lost just three times in 27 MLS games this season. While the Loons are in for another gut check, they come off an admirable display against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz – a place where so many have collapsed under pressure this season. Minnesota United will have to be in top form all over the field as it looks to become the first team to win at Banc of California Stadium in 2019 MLS play.
The game kicks off at 9:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 9:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. You can also follow along with timely game updates on Twitter by following @MNUFCMatch.
In its first ever major cup final, Minnesota United came a few missed chances away from forcing overtime and completing a stunning comeback against a 10-man Atlanta United side. Conceding twice in the first 20 minutes through an unfortunate Chase Gasper own goal and a poorly defended Pity Martinez strike, the Loons dug themselves an early hole. Heading out of the break down 2-0 and with a mountain to climb, Adrian Heath’s side responded in emphatic fashion. A goal from Robin Lod just 64 seconds into the second half reinvigorated the Loons as they dominated much of the second half. When Atlanta were reduced to 10 men in the 74th minute, MNUFC took complete control of the game but in the end, were unable to make the pressure count and carve out a second goal.
“We’ve looked at the game and there’s an enormous amount of positives that have come from the game,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “You don’t feel it at time [when] you’ve just lost a final but then you look at the game back and after the first 20 minutes, I thought we may have been the better team. We were certainly the better team second half, created a lot of chances. For me, it’s a guide of how far we’ve come the last couple years because we couldn’t have gone toe to toe with Atlanta at any time since I’ve been here but this time we did.”
While the painful defeat may have left a bad taste in the mouth of many Minnesota United supporters, the unprecedented run in the U.S. Open Cup exemplifies the growth of the young MLS club. Scoring his first goal in black and blue, Robin Lod played a key role in Minnesota’s dominant second half display. The Finnish midfielder helped to spread play out wide where the Loons then looked most threatening from the crosses they delivered into the box. While Lod couldn’t force home a second goal, he too felt a sense of disappointment from the loss but also understood the positive implications it brought for MNUFC moving forward.
“I think [that] you still feel a little bit sad because it was such a big opportunity to win something,” said Lod. “Even though you come second, you just lose in the last moment. It was a tough loss [to take]. I think in the end of the season, I think you will look back and think that it was a great run for the whole team.”
While Minnesota United had many positive spells of play on Tuesday night, the pace and movement of Atlanta’s front three of Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco still looked menacing. The Loons will have no respite as a matchup with LAFC means defending against the highest scoring attack led by MLS’s leading goal scorer, Carlos Vela. While Vela has scored 27 goals during the 2019 season, he sustained a minor hamstring injury and was forced off the field during this weekend’s El Tráfico, which could rule him out for Sunday’s game. Vela’s potential absence may be a positive for MNUFC but LAFC have proven that they have no shortage of attacking options, even without their talisman.
“There’s a slight difference but then I think we are going to be looking at the front three again,” said Heath. “We’ve just played against [Ezequiel] Barco, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez and now all of a sudden, you’ve got [Diego] Rossi one side, you’ve got [Adama] Diomande through the middle, maybe [Brian] Rodriguez coming in [and Carlos] Vela, it doesn’t get any easier. One thing that we do know [is that] their attacking play is outstanding; their combination play in that 20-yard box outside of the 18-yard box is as good as anything that you’ll see.”
While LAFC are undoubtedly Major League Soccer’s most formidable attacking side, their suffocating defensive pressure – a tactic implemented by Bob Bradley – has also given opponents fits. As they lose possession or turn over the ball while attacking, LAFC’s front line and midfielders immediately step up the field and collapse on the ball. If they are successful in quickly winning the ball back high up the field, then LAFC has a direct path to goal and a numerical advantage. Adrian Heath stressed the importance of playing out of LA Football Club’s press and not turning the ball over when under pressure.
“You don’t want to beat yourself,” he said. “Don’t give them opportunities in your own defensive third by trying to play out when they’ve got too many bodies around the box, too many people pressing the ball. Take your opportunities if and when they come. On the road, you cannot give anything away, you’ve got to make them earn everything they get and if we do that, we’ll take whatever comes our way. We know it’s going to be tough but let’s go and give it our best shot.”
With only seven games left to play in the 2019 MLS season, Minnesota United currently sits in 5th place on 42 points in the Western Conference. As it’s been in almost every recent game week, the dogfight in the West has not eased up at all and no team looks as if they will run away any time soon. Across the current top seven, only three points separate second place RSL from seventh place FC Dallas with Minnesota United and the rest of the Western Conference hopefuls sitting right in between. Each game between Western Conference teams now has playoff implications as Decision Day looms on the horizon.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great spot,” said Heath. “To our seven [games remaining], we’ve got three at home which are going to be huge for us now between now and the end of the season if we want to fulfill the ambition which was to make the playoffs before the season [started]. This is the first of what’s going to be like seven cup finals for us. Let’s make sure that we compete in every game that we play, try and make sure that every time that we cross the white line, we give everything that we’ve got. If we do that, I can’t ask for anymore.”
“Of course, it’s going to be a tough challenge,” added Robin Lod. “But I think that after the [Open Cup] final loss we are really motivated now to keep going in the league and go for the playoff spot. I think we are really motivated and we will give a really good challenge to them [LAFC], for sure.”
Minnesota United’s next game is an international friendly at Allianz Field against C.F. Pachuca on Saturday, September 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CT. The game will be streamed directly on mnufc.com or you can follow along with timely match updates by following @MNUFCMatch on Twitter.
Minnesota United FC
- OUT: M – Osvaldo Alonso (right leg)
Los Angeles Football Club
- OUT: M – Javi Perez (left ACL tear)
- QUESTIONABLE: M – Alejandro Guido (right quad)
- QUESTIONABLE: F – Carlos Vela (hamstring strain)
- LAFC forward Carlos Vela’s brother, Alejandro, played for Minnesota United during its NASL tenure. He made eight appearances for the Loons in 2015.
- Phillip Ejimadu was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Bob Bradley coached Manny Lagos and Amos Magee when they played for Chicago Fire. Lagos played for the Fire in 1998 and 1999, while Magee was on the team in 2001-02.
- Jordan Harvey and Michael Boxall were teammates on Vancouver Whitecaps FC from 2011 to 2012.
- Dejan Jakovic and Collin Martin were both on D.C. United’s roster in 2013.
- Lee Nguyen and Bobby Shuttleworth were mainstays at New England Revolution together from 2012 through 2016.
- Tyler Miller and Osvaldo Alonso were teammates for two seasons on Seattle Sounders FC from 2016 to 2017. Miller played for Sounders FC II in 2015 while Alonso was on the senior squad.
- Steven Beitashour and Ike Opara played for the San Jose Earthquakes from 2010 to 2012.
- Lamar Batista and Lawrence Olum played the 2017 and 2018 seasons for the Portland Timbers.
- Latif Blessing and Opara played for Sporting Kansas City in 2017.
- Minnesota fell 2-1 to Atlanta United FC in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday.
- The team is the first Minnesota-based club to reach the Open Cup Final.
- Robin Lod scored his first MNUFC goal against Atlanta in the Open Cup Final.
- Darwin Quintero finished as the top scorer in the Open Cup, netting six goals during the tournament.
- Minnesota defeated LAFC 5-1 in its last meeting back in 2018, setting a club record for most goals scored. The Loons surpassed that mark against FC Cincinnati on June 29, 2019 with a 7-1 win.
- LAFC became the first them to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs this season.
- A win against Minnesota would clinch a first-round bye for LAFC in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
- LAFC forward Carlos Vela leads the league in goals (27), shots (132) and shots on goal (60).
- Vela is currently on pace to beat the MLS single-season goal record. The 31-goal record was set by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez in 2018.
- Vela has a five-goal lead in the MLS Golden Boot race over LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
- LAFC is the only MLS team that MNUFC has not yet faced this season. This is the latest first meeting of a Western Conference team in the Loons’ MLS history.
- This is the third of a four-game road trip for the Loons in competitive games.
- Minnesota will host Mexico’s CF Pachuca on September 7 at Allianz Field. It will be the first friendly against a Liga MX team since 2017.
- Jan Gregus is one of five players with over 100 corner kicks taken this season.
- Mason Toye is averaging 0.89 goals per 90 minutes played and a 26.7% scoring rate, placing him in the league’s top 10 in both categories.
- Vito Mannone and Tyler Miller are tied for second in the league with nine clean sheets.
- LAFC is undefeated at home this season. It has only lost once at Banc of California stadium since the team joined MLS last year.