Welcome to the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament. A week after Columbus Crew SC completed a perfect group stage with a 3-0 record, seven goals scored and no goals allowed, the Black & Gold are back on the field in Orlando, Florida, look to advance and win this tournament.
Standing in the team’s way, however, is Minnesota United, another side that is undefeated in 2020 and went 1-0-2 to finish in second place in Group D. After to impressive wins to begin the 2020 season — 3-1 against the Portland Timbers and 5-2 against the San Jose Earthquakes, both on the road — Minnesota began the MLS is Back Tournament with a 2-1 victory against Sporting Kansas City. The Loons managed two draws to close out the group, which was enough see the team through.
Now it’s win or go home for both teams, making Tuesday night’s matchup an intriguing one.
Questions for E Pluribus Loonum
Massive Report: It was a hot start to the 2020 MLS season for Minnesota, followed by the pandemic break and then a good win to begin the MLS is Back Tournament. Two draws followed to end the group stage. How is the fanbase feeling about this team? What kind of chances would you give United through the knockout round and in any shortened regular season after, assuming there is one?
E Pluribus Loonum: It’s a mostly positive mixed bag if that makes any sense whatsoever. The issue throughout the team’s history (at least MLS history) has been keeping the ball out of the net. Last year that became a non-issue with MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone manning the net. The issue now is scoring goals, which at the base may seem to be a non-issue as well with 12 goals in 5 games. But 8 of those 12 came from the two pre-pandemic matches. As Eli pointed out in his article MNUFC likes to hang back and play a counterattacking style. With the entire pandemic for teams and coaches to figure out that strategy this has put Adrian Heath’s primary mode of attack in disarray. Whether Minnesota can advance and succeed in a shortened season really hinges on whether or not Heath can and will have the team use a different offensive strategy.
MR: Ethan Finlay was a key part of the Crew’s success from 2014-17 when he was traded to Minnesota. How has the winger helped this group since coming back from his knee injury and how have you seen him change during his time with United?
EPL: I will admit I did not see much of his play with Columbus as at the time Minnesota United was down in the NASL, so I was mostly watching that. But Heath probably had the best quote about Ethan Finlay and his expectations and performance after the match against Colorado. He’s a guy the coaches look at as always giving 110% and putting all his energy out there for the entire time he’s on the pitch. His runs and positioning are good and the match against the Rapids showed that. As long as Ethan stays healthy he will absolutely continue to help the team perform; so long as we get some more players to help with the attack/scoring.
MR: No Ike Opara certainly has to be a blow to MNUFC. What’s going on with the former MLS Defender of the Year and how is Adrian Heath and company making up for his loss at the back?
EPL: Opara is out rehabbing an undisclosed injury, the club hasn’t released anything so that’s as much as we or anyone else knows unfortunately. It looked initially that his absence along with Kallman being suspended would really hurt our back line and defensive efforts but it has not. At this point the Loons are averaging 1.2 GA per match and in a full 34 match season would be on pace to give up 40.8 goals. Which would be the least the team has ever given up. Heath has found a nice core of Gasper, Boxall, Aja, and Metanire lining up in front of goalkeeper Tyler Miller which has worked well so far. Minnesota has only given up 3 goals in 3 games and has a clean sheet since the start of the tournament.
MR: It sounds like Kevin Molino will be available for Minnesota on Tuesday. What kind of boost is this for MNUFC? What does he add if he’s in the lineup from the start for the Loons?
EPL: At this point it looks like Molino will be a matchday decision. On the press release he is considered “Questionable” due to his left hamstring for tonight. Molino is definitely a player we like to see on the field because of his offensive prowess which seems to work well in the counterattacking style Heath has typically deployed. If left out I think the team could work well in the 4-3-3 formation that was deployed against Colorado. But as of now it seems up in the air.
To see Massive Report’s answers to E Pluribus Loonum’s questions, click here.