Preview | #RSLvMIN
© Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Preview | #RSLvMIN

REAL SALT LAKE vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah
05.29.2021 | MLS Week No. 7 | MLS Game No. 7
8:30 p.m. CT (The CW Twin Cities, Bally Sports North, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)

2021 Regular Season Records (W-L-D):
RSL: 2-1-2 (1-1-1 at home)
MIN: 2-4-0 (0-2-0 on the road)

No matter how you cut it, this is likely to be somewhat of an odd duck game for Minnesota United. Following four tough losses in a row to start the season, MNUFC found a bit of mojo in their last two to secure back-to-back 1-0 wins at home. Now they find themselves hitting the road to Utah after a bye week and just before a three-week international break. They have two new marquee attacking options in forward Adrien Hunou and winger Franco Fragpane to incorporate into the flow, but they’re also gauging the return of defender Bakaye Dibassy from injury and the question of whether to push midfielder Emanuel Reynoso — who’s been nursing a leg injury recently — when he could benefit from a good stretch of rest. While we’re at it, toss playing at altitude and the lingering bitter taste of defeat at RSL’s hands in the home opener and it seems like just about anything could happen in this game and it wouldn’t be surprising. With Vancouver on a bye and a struggling Austin FC heading to the conference-leading Sounders, even a point could help the Loons climb up the table a bit and closer to the playoff line.

THE OPPOSITION
After beginning the season with a pair of wins over MNUFC and Sporting KC, the results have flattened out a bit for the Claret-and-Cobalt. A loss and a draw at Rio Tinto Stadium was followed up by a draw on the road to an FC Dallas team currently in last place in the Western Conference. After going up 1-0 in just the 20th minute on a goal from Rubio Rubin, RSL had to come back to draw level at 2-2 in the 86th minute on a goal from Damir Kreilach. Rubin has been on an absolute tear to start the season, baggings four goals to have him tied for third in the league with players like Gonzalo Higuain, Alan Pulido and Valentin Castellanos. Last time out against RSL, the Loons struggled to contain Rubin as he notched assists on both of Anderson Julio’s goals. Getting a rematch against Real Salt Lake so soon will be a good measure of how much Minnesota have turned things around since that disappointing home opener.

ADRIEN HUNOU ON WHAT HE BRINGS

“I like to score because it’s my job. Not only score but I like combination with other players that can play with me. It’s important to have the ball, to keep the ball and to make the game.”
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ADRIAN HEATH ON MAINTAINING MOMENTUM

“As I’ve said before, no matter what we say as a staff, the thing that breeds most confidence in players is winning games. The last two games, they’ve won. We’ve played well, we need to keep that going now. We know it’s going to be difficult at Salt Lake, always is. The air and everything there, but we go there, game is always tight. I don’t expect anything different. But I know if we play well, we give ourselves a chance of winning.”

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STORYLINES presented by BMW
LOD MANAGEMENT: Don’t look now, but Robin Lod — who struggled in his first season with Minnesota United before finding his stride last season playing as an inverted winger on the right side and a false 9 up top — is quietly placing himself among the statistical elite in MLS through the season’s early going. His current expected goals (xG) total of 3.08 has him not far behind Inter Miami’s Gonzalo Higuain (3.29) and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski (3.08). It also has him ahead of SKC’s Alan Pulido (2.56) and NYCFC’s Jesus Medina (2.56). Shift the focus to a combination of chance creation and finishing with expected assists plus expected goals (xG+xA) and the story so far looks even better for the Finn. His 4.32 xG+xA has him behind only Raul Ruidiaz, Chicharito and Carles Gil in the league. Given that Gil has looked like an MVP so far with the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution and that Chicharito and Ruidiaz sit one and two atop the Golden Boot race, that’s some rare company. The tantalizing element of all this is that Lod is not a ball-dominant player, either as a scorer or a playmaker. While he’s 11th on the team in touches per 90 at 44.09, he’s second in touches in the box per 90 at 7.11. As we saw last year, he benefited tremendously from having both Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino to play off of, contributing efficiently whenever he did get the ball. If Hunou and Fragapane can pull defenders’ attention alongside Reynoso, Lod stands to profit as a do-it-all player who can find the gaps and exploit them.

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FIRST TOUCHES
Emanuel Reynoso is second in key passes — passes that lead directly to a shot attempts — with 23. New England Revolution’s Carles Gil is first with 29.

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