Columbus Crew SC embarks on the team’s first journey to the brand-new Allianz Stadium this weekend to battle Minnesota United. Minnesota United currently sits in sixth place in the Western Conference with a record of 4-4-3 (15 points in 11 games played; 1.36 ppg; +1 goal differential). Nicknamed “The Loons,” Minnesota is now in the team’s third season competing in Major League Soccer and be it that the two franchises reside in different conferences, this will be their one meeting of the entire regular season. Columbus has been victorious in both previous matchups. Most recently, the Black & Gold won 3-2 last year in Columbus and a 1-0 win for the Crew in MNUFC’s inaugural season.
Last Five Results: L-T-W-T-L
Leading Goal Scorer: Darwin Quintero (5)
Assist Leader: Romain Metanire (4)
Shots Leader: Darwin Quintero (23)
Shots on Goal: Darwin Quintero (9)
Goalkeeper Saves: Vito Mannone (32)
A New Minnesota United
We will see a different and improved lineup from previous contests, as MNUFC made several key additions in the offseason. MLS veterans Ike Opara and Osvaldo Alonso were acquired this past offseason to solidify the heart of the lineup. Opara was a longtime Sporting Kansas City center back. With his height, size, and speed, he has been one of the most consistent and formidable center backs in the league for years. Alonso finds his way over from the Seattle Sounders. The defensive midfielder is known for his ruthless defensive mentality and high soccer IQ. While both players are just on the downside of their prime years, they are still solid veterans who have helped right the Loon ship so far in 2019.
Additionally, Minnesota added a third Designated Player to its roster, in Slovakian international and former FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus. He is a classic two-way midfielder with the technical ability to spread the ball around the field and the defensive acumen to thwart opposition attacks.
How Minnesota Plays
Minnesota recently traded team captain, Francisco Calvo to the Chicago Fire for allocation funds, which was predicated by a switch in formation from head coach Adrian Heath’s usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. Heath thrives on playing a fast-paced brand of soccer. His players down the spine (goalkeeper, center backs, central midfielders, striker) are tough and physical, while his outside backs and wingers are versatile and speedy. The combination can be very hectic for opposing teams, yet on the flipside, provides opposition the opportunity to counter, an aspect the Crew should look to exploit.
A tweak Heath has been experimenting with is having winger Miguel Ibarra drop back to an outside leftback role, in an effort to make the attack as potent and wide-ranging as possible. Heath wants to keep the opposition on their toes. Placing Miguel Ibarra at outside back and winger Romoario Ibarra at winger makes the left side of the field incredibly dangerous offensively for MNUFC.
Minnesota’s leading goalscorer, Darwin Quintero has been struggling as of late. While he is credited with five goals this season, all but one has been via penalty kicks. The Colombian is struggling to score within the run of play and has seen his minutes decline, though some of that has been due to injury. On the flip side, fellow Colombian, Angelo Rodriguez has shown well in recent games for the Loons, having tallied three goals in his last six matches. He will play the center forward role in the 4-3-3. A familiar face to Crew fans is Ethan Finlay. The former Crew fan-favorite is in the midst of his third season with Minnesota, having yet to register a goal in 2019.
Given the various tweaks and modifications, Minnesota may potentially step on to the pitch with this starting 11:
How the Crew win
Having competed against three worldly-renowned strikers in Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela in consecutive matches, the most grueling part of the Crew’s season is in the review mirror. While Rodriguez and Quintero are not near the level of ability as those three lethal goalscorers, the Crew’s backline must keep chances for the Minnesota duo minimized. Doing so would give Columbus a legitimate chance to steal points on the road.
Even more critical to a Crew victory, is eliminating the “cheap goals” consistently being surrendered. Caleb Porter was adamant after the Los Angeles Football Club game that the Crew is shooting itself in the foot when relinquishing such goals. Furthermore, the Black & Gold must finish the chances created. It’s been the broken record this season, Columbus creates chance via crosses and build-up centrally, yet those opportunities rarely find their intended target. Depending on how Columbus improves in both of those areas will decide, not only the outcome of this battle but the ultimate outcome of the 2019 campaign.