Match Preview: Minnesota United FC vs. Columbus Crew SC

by on 4 July 2017

Like not a few MLS teams, Minnesota is Jekyll and Hyde depending on whether they are at home or on the road. Tuesday evening the Loons adopt their Dr. Jekyll form as they return home to face the Columbus Crew. United needs three points to keep pace in the competitive race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, a lofty goal that is nonetheless the stated objective. Can Minnesota United stop the dynamic Columbus attack and return to its winning ways?

Recent form

Minnesota L D W L L -16
Columbus L W L L W -3

Previous meetings

This will be the first meeting not only between the two clubs, but between Minnesota and Columbus in any type of soccer matchup. Previous iterations of Columbus soccer, including indoor and American Soccer League teams, always played in different leagues than Minnesota’s earlier teams. Fans will simply need to draw on any bad blood they’ve earned from watching NHL matchups between the two to get revved up.


Referee Rubiel Vazquez
Assistant Craig Lowry
Assistant Jeff Muschik
Fourth Ricardo Salazar

Tuesday marks Rubiel Vazquez’s first ever head referee assignment in MLS. His last game as a head referee was in early June in an NASL matchup between the New York Cosmos and North Carolina FC. It will be tough to draw early conclusions about Vazquez’s refereeing style, though it will be interesting to watch whether more savvy players attempt to test the official to see what they can get away with.

Roster report

Minnesota United
M Johan Venegas (international duty) – Out
D Francisco Calvo (international duty) – Out
D Jermaine Taylor (international duty) – Out
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Marc Burch (hernia injury) – Out
D Vadim Demidov (knee injury) – Out
D Brent Kallman (knee injury) – Out
G John Alvbåge (thumb injury) – Out
F Abu Danladi (thigh injury) – Questionable

Columbus Crew
D Gaston Sauro (left PCL surgery) – Out
M Ben Swanson (right ankle surgery) Out
M Niko Hansen (hernia surgery) – Out
M Justin Meram (ankle injury) – Out

Tactical outlook

Another game, another chance to see whether coach Adrian Heath needs to turn to the Itasca Society to field a full eleven players. This week somehow finds the Loons in worse shape than against New York City FC in terms of depth, as international duty now ravages the club of an additional three players.

Abu Danladi is now listed as questionable, and the team will desperately hope that he is on the better side of questionable and can go Tuesday night. If he’s healthy, the Loons will likely deploy him on the right side, with Kevin Molino as a center attacking midfielder, Miguel Ibarra on the left, and Christian Ramirez up top. If he can’t go, Minnesota will need either to turn to Ismaila Jome as a left winger or a second striker, or run something significantly different than usual including using Rasmus Schüler, Collen Warner, Bashkim Kadrii, or Collin Martin to at least help move ostensible starters into roles that better suit their skills.

On the back line, I am sorry to report that we will likely be fielding a defense of Justin Davis, Jérôme Thiesson, Joseph Greenspan, and Kevin Venegas in some order. Those are the four defenders the club has, and it assumes that Greenspan is healthy enough to play. Other alternatives would be to drop a defensive midfielder like Sam Cronin or Collen Warner into the defense, although at that point Heath is simply picking the least of all evils as he sees them.

A final idea, and my recommended solution, would be to play both Sam Cronin and Collen Warner as two No. 6’s, and deploy the invaluable Ibson more as a No. 10. This gives a makeshift back line more defensive shielding, still allows the team to use Ibson’s playmaking abilities, and reduces the reliance on some forward or attacking midfielder who is either recovering from injury or still unproven. Whatever solution is chosen, Heath should be up for a coach of the week award if he can manage to pull three points out of this match.

How will it play out?

Though they don’t have a goal total that shows it, Columbus has an offensive core that can put up a big number on any given day. Federico Higuaín, Ola Kamara, Justin Meram, and others like Kekuta Manneh can give this duct-taped defense fits all afternoon. Expect Minnesota’s midfielders to be given heavier duties defending, and thus the battle over possession in the midfield will tell the tale of who wins.

Columbus will win if…

If the Crew can regularly get the ball into attacking spaces, they will find their goals. There is just too much liability packed into the Minnesota defense. Typically Columbus likes to spread defenses wide with runs from full backs and streaking wingers, and this should create seams in the back that the team can exploit.

Minnesota will win if…

United will win if they score more goals than their opponent. That sounds blunt and obvious, but Minnesota will have a better chance of winning a 4-3 game than a 1-0 game against the Crew. They will need to play on the front foot, pressure the Columbus back line, and finish the chances they are given.

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  • Eric Beckman

    This defensive shortage should have been seen as a real possibility once Demidov was jettisoned. I get the imperative to prioritize the longer term, but seems that some sort of loan for a defender would have been worthwhile in the Spring window

  • nomadic loon

    A request for help on this one………
    The Columbus Crew have been around for more than 20 years and seem to be the exception of stability and longevity when it comes to Ohio-based pro and semi-pro soccer clubs. I couldn’t find another franchise that have existed more than 6 years. Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Cleveland have tried with various franchises, or are still trying with current squads.
    The most Minnesota matchups with an Ohio team was 25 between the Strikers and Cleveland Force in the MISL days. Outdoor matchups were with the Thunder against the Cleveland City Stars, Cincinnati Cheetahs, and Cincinnati Riverhawks. As for Columbus teams, the short-lived Columbus Magic in ‘79-‘80, were a division or two below the NASL Kicks so never met.
    However, from 1994 to 1996 the Columbus Xoggz – called the Ohio Xoggz in the last year – were in the same Midwest Division of the USISL as the Thunder. Regrettably, I’m unable to find the regular season results for those three years so am leaving this Minnesota vs Columbus history incomplete as they played each other at least twice each season. If any Thunder followers and historians have the scores of estimated 6 to 9 Thunder vs Xoggz games during those three seasons, please share. I would love to know. Where did they play their home games? How the hell do you pronounce Xoggz? What is/are Xoggz? I wonder if there was any push to resurrect the Xoggz name in the early days of MLS Crew formation? Go Loons!

    • nomadic loon

      To expand, the 1994 USISL Midwest Division had 9 teams: Minnesota Thunder, Columbus Xoggs, Milwaukee Rampage, St. Louis Knights, Detroit Wheels, Rockford Raptors, Des Moines Menace, Cincinnati Cheetahs, and Sioux City Breeze.
      In 1995, Des Moines and Sioux City left; but Chicago Stingers, Louisville Thoroughbreds, and Lexington Bandits joined to make it 10 teams.
      And in 1996, most teams left or folded leaving only 5 teams: Minnesota Thunder, Ohio Xoggz (still in Columbus), Milwaukee Rampage, New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers, and Chicago Stingers.