MINNESOTA UNITED FC vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
09.25.2019 | MLS Week No. 30 | MLS Game No. 32
7:00 p.m. CT (FOX Sports North+, FOX Sports GO, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)
MIN: 14-10-7 (9-1-5 at home)
SKC: 10-14-7 (3-8-4 on the road)
Minnesota United is back at Allianz Field for the second-to-last time in the 2019 MLS regular season as it welcomes the visiting Sporting Kansas City in a game presented by Taylor Communications. In what has been an overwhelmingly successful inaugural year at Allianz Field for MNUFC, a win over Sporting KC on Wednesday evening would present the club with a trifecta of momentous opportunities heading into its final stretch of games. Not only would three points give the Loons sole possession of second place in the Western Conference – which would put holding the two seed in the Western Conference playoffs in Minnesota’s hands – but it would also mathematically eliminate SKC from playoff contention and definitively clinch Minnesota’s first-ever MLS playoff berth. While the visitors enter Wednesday having lost their last three games in MLS play, Sporting KC will be desperate to grab a crucial victory that would narrowly keep them within reach of the playoff line. With SKC’s captain and defensive talisman Matt Besler suspended through a red card received in Saturday’s matchup with the Colorado Rapids, the Loons will look to cash in on their recent attacking strength as they aim to secure a playoff spot in front of a sold-out, raucous Allianz Field.
Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. Genz-Ryan and MNUFC are teaming up for a Winter Coat Drive on gameday. Bring your new or gently worn coats to the Great Lawn before the game to donate. All proceeds benefit the Salvation Army.
With a similar opportunity at stake to clinch a playoff berth in Sunday’s action against the Portland Timbers, Minnesota United left Providence Park with a clean sheet and a valuable road point in hand. Portland has proven to be a tough place for MNUFC to take points from, and the 0-0 draw represented the first point that the Loons have taken from Providence Park in three attempts. The goalless draw marked three successive home games without a goal for the Portland Timbers — over 270 minutes of play without scoring, the longest stretch of the season for a team whose playoff hopes are rapidly fading. The aura of impermeability that 95-year-old Providence Park has exuded for many years may be wearing off as the Timbers stare at an underwhelming 7-5-3 home record in 2019 — a stark contrast to the 11-2-4 home record the Timbers posted in both the 2017 and 2018 MLS regular seasons. With Kevin Molino being denied by Portland’s goalkeeper Steve Clark in a one-on-one deep into stoppage time, Head Coach Adrian Heath will have felt like his side could have even left Portland with its sixth road win of the season.
“I think it’s always a very difficult place to go,” said Heath. “The fact that they were in a situation where it was really a must win for them, we knew it was going to be really, really difficult and that was how it proved [to be]. We rode our luck at times but in the end, we were very disappointed that we didn’t score. My only disappointment on the game was the fact that for the very good opportunities that we had, really good spots, we didn’t pick that final ball, that killer pass. Obviously, Kevin [Molino] has the one-on-one in the virtually last moment of the game. When you look at it, I think a point was probably what we deserved.”
In what could have been a detrimental situation for Minnesota United, Ike Opara – who has been so crucial in MNUFC’s solid defensive performances throughout 2019 – left Sunday’s game at halftime. Stepping into his place was former Portland Timber and veteran midfielder Lawrence Olum, who slotted into Opara’s spot at centerback and put in a second half shift that was invaluable in holding a clean sheet and a road point. Olum has become an ever-reliable option for Adrian Heath, who has looked to the veteran to produce quality defensive play out of a deep-lying midfield role as well as playing in the Minnesota back line when needed. Olum could now be called upon for even more crucial minutes for Minnesota United side that lost defender Brent Kallman for the rest of the 2019 season. The veteran not only brings composure and experience but also clean, simple passing of the ball that has helped the Loons retain and keep possession of the ball.
“I thought we knew that we would have to defend the box really well,” said Heath. “I thought Lawrence [Olum] coming on at halftime, you worry about losing all that athleticism and experience with Ike [Opara], but LO [Lawrence Olum] came in and it was like he never missed a beat. He was really composed back there and he did a really good thing for us.”
“LO is class,” added defender Michael Boxall. “He’s been called upon like that, quite a few times this season and he’s stepped in and done his job really well. When he was coming on, I had no issues with him stepping in and knew that he was going to do his job, just like he has done all season long.”
While Lawrence Olum and Ike Opara – both former SKC players – have been exceptional for Minnesota United this season, Sporting KC has looked to be far from its best and has faced nagging injury and suspension woes this year. Sporting is just one loss away from missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when the team was known as the Kansas City Wizards. SKC has posted a poor record not just away from home, but also at Children’s Mercy Park. Losing six times at home in 2019 MLS play, Sporting will likely rue its opportunities for missed points at home as it reflects on the year. Regardless, the visitors will be aware of Minnesota’s dream playoff clinching scenario and will be out to spoil the party.
“You know that any team that Peter [Vermes] has, [they are] going to be incredibly well-organized, got good players,” said Heath. “I’m a little bit surprised but what I won’t be surprised at is [that] I know they’ll come in and be competitive on Wednesday. This is not going to be them coming in and thinking, ‘Oh maybe we’re out of it, let’s go enjoy a nice game of football.’ This is going to be a tough game for us, a lot of emotion riding on the game as well for what it means for us. Not many people had us finishing in the playoffs, in the West."
Speaking of emotions, Wednesday night will be an evening filled with playoff implications which will likely heighten the atmosphere at an expected sold-out Allianz Field. A Minnesota United win will not only eliminate Sporting KC from playoff contention but it will promise the Loons a spot in the First Round of the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. With a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit expected at the time of kickoff, a crisp, chilly Minnesotan breeze will swirl down from the rafters of Allianz Field as the Loons look to once again take that crucial step towards playoff qualification, this time in front of the Minnesota United faithful.
“I think it will be nice to do it at home,” said Heath. “The relationship between the supporters and the players at Allianz Field has been incredible. I know they’ll bring their A game because we’ll need them to. We want the supporters to be as noisy and as loud as they have been all year and hopefully we can give them a performance that warrants that support because it would be a really big moment for us to clinch at home.”
“It always feels nice when you end another team’s season whether it’s in the playoffs or whether it’s towards the end of the season,” added Boxall. “I think the way we’ve gone about things, on and off the field, I think we expect [to make the playoffs]. We’d like to have done it on the weekend but what’s better than doing it at Allianz Field in front of our fans?”
Minnesota United's next game is its final regular season bout at Allianz Field in 2019 as it hosts Los Angeles Football Club on Sunday, September 29. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1, streaming on FOX Sports GO and live on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North. It’s Minnesota United’s Fan Appreciation Game, presented by Element Electronics, so come early for special events.
Minnesota United FC
Sporting Kansas City
- OUT: D – Rodney Wallace (hip surgery)
- OUT: GK – Adrian Zendejas (back injury)
- OUT: M – Benny Feilhaber (quad injury)
- OUT: D – Andreu Fontas (Achilles injury)
- Vito Mannone set a new club single-game record with 11 saves against Portland Timbers on Sunday.
- Mannone sits third in MLS with 115 saves on the year. He is one save from tying Bobby Shuttleworth’s club single-season record set in 2017.
- Mannone has kept 11 clean sheets for MNUFC in 2019.
- Minnesota thumped Sporting Kansas City 4-1 in the last meeting at Allianz Field. The win advanced the Loons to the Round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup.
- MNUFC can clinch a spot in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs with a win over Sporting Kansas City.
- Minnesota has not made the postseason in league play since the 2015 NASL season.
- Six of the Western Conference’s playoffs spots are still up for grabs. The Eastern Conference has just one more place to be secured for the postseason.
- Minnesota and Portland combined for 49 shots on Sunday, tied for the third-most in MLS history and the most ever in a game involving the Loons.
- Sporting has scored and conceded the second-most goals in a game in MLS history this season. SKC won 7-1 against Montreal in March and fell 7-2 to LA Galaxy on September 15.
- Minnesota is also tied for the second-most goals in a game in league history with its 7-1 win over FC Cincinnati on June 29.
- SKC has not played an MLS game in Minnesota since May 20, 2018.
- The last three league meetings between the teams have been in Kansas City.
- This will be the eighth league meeting between the teams since 2017 and the 12th in all competitions since 2014.
- Jan Gregus is tied for third in the league with 113 corner kicks.
- Gregus is one of eight players who have provided three assists in a single game this season.
- Mason Toye sits fifth in MLS with 0.78 goals per 90 minutes played.
- This is the final double-game week of the regular season for Minnesota. The Loons will host Los Angeles Football Club on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
- MNUFC has had six double-game weeks in league play. Including friendlies and Open Cup games, the team has had 10 throughout the year.
- Ike Opara spent six seasons with Sporting Kansas City, representing the club from 2013 through 2018. He made 127 regular season appearances for SKC, scoring 13 goals and providing five assists.
- Lawrence Olum played for Sporting KC from 2011 through 2014 and rejoined the team in 2016. He took the field 87 times for the club with five goals and three assists to his credit.
- 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 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.
- Benny Feilhaber played the 2011 and 2012 seasons with Bobby Shuttleworth as a member of the Revs.
- Graham Smith and Hassani Dotson both played for Oregon State in 2015.