Columbus Crew SC begins its toughest stretch of the 2020 Major League Soccer season on Wednesday when the Black & Gold welcome Minnesota United to MAPFRE Stadium for the second meeting this year. Although the first contest between the two sides didn’t count in the standings, as it was part of the MLS is Back Tournament knockout rounds, it was the first taste of defeat of the year for the Crew, who fell to United on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation.
With Minnesota heading to Columbus this time around, let’s take a look at what the Crew should expect from the Loons.
MNUFC at a glance
League Form: D-L-W-W-L
Leading Scorer: Kevin Molino (6 goals)
Assist Leader: Jan Gregus (6 assists)
Player to watch
After receiving the ire of many Minnesota fans for what they felt was an underwhelming performance through his first season and a half with the Loons considering his salary (the second-highest for the club in 2019), United midfielder Robin Lod has hit his stride midway through the 2020 MLS regular season.
The Finnish international is on the best run of his MLS career, netting three goals and one assist through the last four matches. While Lod has played on the left side of the pitch throughout his career, the injury of former Crew midfielder Ethan Finlay forced a formation change that saw Lod moved to the right side.
This change in position has led to a shift in momentum for Lod, who had previously only scored one goal, with zero assists, through his first 16 regular season appearances for the Loons. The success of Lod seems to carry with it the success of Minnesota, as the Loons have yet to lose a match in which Lod has gotten onto the scoresheet.
How they play
Minnesota is a team in flux. Much like the Columbus Black & Gold, injuries have forced constant formation and lineup changes for United. A glance at the latest injury report is all the explanation needed as to why the Loons have cooled a bit since the red-hot run seen in the MLS is Back Tournament. You can see Minnesota’s long list of injuries here.
Loons head coach Adrian Heath has been consistent in playing out of a 4-2-3-1 formation, opting to distribute the club’s focus on both the attacking and defensive sides of the pitch evenly, similar to the Crew’s preferred play style. However, Minnesota is a club that is okay with conceding possession, opting to play a deep defense, and choosing to pick its moments to try to dispossess its opposition and press the counter attack while the opposing club attempts to switch the field defensively.
Not necessarily a revolutionary style of play, but a style Minnesota’s offense has found success with, scoring 23 goals through 12 matches. However, the difference between United and the Crew lies in the success of the two clubs’ defenses. The Loons have allowed 18 goals against this season, more than quadrupling Columbus’ four.
Minnesota has also found significant success on set pieces throughout 2020. However, that threat may be softened against the Black & Gold, as Jan Gregus, who takes the majority of set pieces for the Loons, will miss Wednesday’s match due to a red card received during United’s 2-2 draw against the Houston Dynamo.
It isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that Minnesota will attempt to play it safe with the lack of key players, bunker down and counter attack if the opportunity presents itself, but also settle on escaping Columbus with a point.
How the Crew wins
Minnesota United is no stranger to finding the back of the net in 2020. While Columbus’ defensive errors or dangerous crosses in front of goal have gone unpunished against clubs like FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC, these defensive lapses are exactly what Minnesota loves to pounce on to rack up goals. The Crew’s defense can’t afford to allow the same first half chances it afforded Chicago, Cincinnati and Nashville, or the Black & Gold could very well find itself with its second loss of the season.
Columbus has found itself nothing short of dominant during the second half of its matches, outscoring every other MLS club. But the first half of Crew matches leave a lot to be desired. If the Black & Gold can come out strong defensively during the first half, and allow the offense time to figure out and penetrate the Loons’ defense, there is no reason the Crew can’t take all three points on Wednesday.