This afternoon’s massive Western Conference matchup presents a crucial three points at stake for Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake. A win for the Loons would bring them to 48 points and back into second place in the Western Conference barring the result of the Seattle Sounders versus New York Red Bulls game at 5:00 p.m. CT. If the Claret-and-Cobalt were to hand MNUFC just its second loss at Allianz Field in 2019 MLS play, they would reach 49 points, just one shy of the 50-point mark – a total that often holds up for playoff qualification come Decision Day in MLS. Whatever happens when both sides cross the white line is up in the air but one thing is certain; these 90 minutes could conceivably predict the playoff fate of either RSL or MNUFC.
Clean Bill of Health
Minnesota United returns to full fitness in MLS action for the first time since August 14 when the Loons beat the Colorado Rapids 1-0 at Allianz Field. Throughout August, MNUFC’s captain Osvaldo Alonso struggled with a minor right leg injury, starting in the Open Cup Final on August 27 only to return to the injury list. Alonso started and played 90 in MNUFC’s disappointing 2-0 loss against the Houston Dynamo but the captain will look to lead his side to victory this afternoon. Forward Angelo Rodriguez had also struggled with injuries as of late when he pulled up with a hamstring injury in Minnesota’s 1-1 tie against Orlando City SC. He too, has been ruled fit and was a second half substitute on Wednesday night in Houston. New signings Robin Lod, Thomás Chacón and Wilfried Moimbé-Tahrat have all gotten minutes under their belts recently and will all be available for selection today. Minnesota United’s only absence will be Chase Gasper who reached the yellow card limit against Houston and will be serve a one game suspension this afternoon.
With three successive games on the road against tough opponents, Adrian Heath was forced to deploy strategic game plans that differed from what many have become accustomed to. Instead of the usual 4-2-3-1, Heath opted to play against LAFC with three central defenders to deal with the league-leaders’ offensive firepower. With three centerbacks, MNUFC began the game against LAFC in a 3-5-2 formation and later shifted to a 5-3-2 to bunker in and hold their 2-0 lead on the road. In another difficult venue to take three points from, the Loons came out in a 4-3-3 on a muggy night at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Houston Dynamo. The absence of attacking midfielder Darwin Quintero saw Hassani Dotson come into the XI as more of a box-to-box midfielder alongside Jan Gregus and Osvaldo Alonso. While Minnesota turned in a five-star performance with five in the back against LAFC, it left a lot to be desired in the 4-3-3 shape against Houston. Will Heath stick with his favored 4-2-3-1 formation this afternoon that has looked so seamless going forward and compact defensively or will he opt to change things up once again?
This afternoon’s return to Allianz Field will feel like a breath of fresh air for the Minnesota United faithful, who haven’t had a chance to watch their team at home in MLS play for almost a month. The stretch of three consecutive MLS games on the road as well as the U.S. Open Cup Final in Atlanta is the Loons’ second longest streak away from Allianz Field since beginning the 2019 season with eight away games. While Minnesota United has had their share of struggles on the road this season (5-9-1), it has been nothing short of spectacular at Allianz Field (8-1-5). Fans have dubbed their home ground a “fortress” and “cathedral” given the fact that the Loons have dropped just one MLS game at home in 2019 and conceded just 10 goals in over 1,260 minutes of game time. To give you a better idea of just how impressive that is, that’s conceding a single goal every 126 minutes of play — not too bad. Look for Allianz Field to be rocking once again this afternoon as the 19,600 fans on hand will be aware of the sheer importance of the three points at stake.