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Match Preview: Minnesota United FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC

by on 5 August 2017

With the low bar of the Grant Wahl threshold safely cleared, Minnesota turns its sights to another milestone on Saturday: first consecutive wins. Seattle comes to town the epitome of an average team: just above the red line, middle of the pack in goals for and against, trudging through a MLS Cup hangover year affected by injury and international duty. But on Saturday, with some exceptions in the back, Seattle will have its best roster available to grab what it might believe are easy road points in Minnesota. Can the Loons prove them wrong, and what do they need to do to get the job done at home?

Recent form

Minnesota W L D L L -16
GD
1.00
PPG
Seattle D W W W D +1
GD
1.41
PPG

Previous meetings

Minnesota and Seattle on Saturday will reignite what was once a divisional rivalry in the days of the original NASL. With the Minnesota Kicks beginning play in 1976, they joined the Western Division along with Portland, Vancouver, St. Louis, and the Seattle Sounders. That first year, the two teams met in the Divisional Championship, with the Kicks winning 3-0 before falling one game short of the Soccer Bowl. Seattle earned its revenge with a 2-0 win in the Divisional Championship the following year. The two teams continued to battle in regular season matches, though they never met in another playoff game.

The two cities renewed hostilities in 1997, when the Minnesota Thunder joined the A-League and faced a new version of the Seattle Sounders that had joined the league two years prior. As members of the A-League, the two clubs faced off in the 1998 Western Conference semifinal, with the Thunder winning 4-2 on aggregate. In 2003, Minnesota once again put the Sounders away in the playoffs, winning 2-0 on aggregate in the Western Conference final and earning a berth in the championship. The two teams continued to play in the new USL until Seattle departed for MLS in 2009.

Officials

Referee Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant Jose Da Silva
Assistant Adam Garner
Fourth Baboucarr Jallow
VAR Victor Rivas

Jose Carlos Rivero officiated Minnesota’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps in June, and he will return to TCF Bank Stadium Saturday for a second Cascadia helping. Rivero ranks around the middle of MLS referees this year in terms of fouls per game (24.4), but is second in yellow cards per game at 4.9. Four red cards puts him at third. Combine that with his penchant for dealing dissent cards (seven this year) and you have a referee who goes to the pocket quickly and does not want to be talked back to.

Also of note is a new row on the table for Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which will be performed by Victor Rivas this week. The job of the VAR will be to review high stakes decisions — namely goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity — using broadcast footage to overturn calls that are obviously wrong. Minnesota’s website has more details on how VAR will work. One-time Premier League referee Howard Webb shares a great video on VAR for more information.

Roster report

Minnesota United
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Marc Burch (hernia injury) – Out
M Rasmus Schüller (thigh injury) – Out
F Christian Ramirez (hamstring injury) – Out
D Justin Davis (foot injury) – Out
D Joseph Greenspan (concussion) – Out

Seattle Sounders
M Osvaldo Alonso (MCL sprain) – Out

Tactical outlook

Last week against D.C. United, fans were reminded that when Minnesota has something like a full-strength lineup available, it can look like a pretty decent expansion team. The Loons will be fielding something close-ish to a starting roster once again this week, with the only obvious starters missing being Marc Burch and Christian Ramirez. That means we should see a back line with Ismaila Jome featuring and Abu Danladi filling in the striker role.

It also means we can turn once more to thinking about tactics rather than guessing at what bodies will plug what holes. Seattle presents an interesting challenge to Minnesota. It has been said that the Loons are either all attack or all defense and have not found a way to balance the two extremes (the D.C. United win notwithstanding). The Sounders bring a stacked front six with a mediocre back four.

If Minnesota plays on the front foot, it may be able to take advantage of Seattle’s relative weak spot in the back and grab a couple of goals. However, that further exposes a still-not-great defense to the likes of Clint Dempsey, Nicolás Lodeiro, Joevin Jones, and Will Bruin. If Minnesota plays defensively (never fun at home), it may still give those Seattle stars too much chance to be dangerous while doing too little to test an opposing defense that is missing key defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. In short, it isn’t a great week to gauge how that balancing act is coming along.

But if Minnesota must pick a poison, it is clear it needs to play high pressure, attacking soccer. The club is not strong enough to successfully absorb the kind of pressure Seattle will bring. Its weakness in the air means Lodeiro and Jones passes from wide will be all the more dangerous. Closing down the ball quickly when possession is lost is the safer bet. Playing quickly and directly at the opposing defense will force some quick, and hopefully wrong, decisions in the defense.

How will it play out?

Barring some serious on-field cynicism in play, there should be some goals in this one. Expect end-to-end play and for each team to use width to spread the opposing defense wide: both teams are strongest on their attacking wings.

Seattle will win if…

If Seattle performs on the field the way it should perform on paper, it could be a long day for the Loons. That said, the club really has not done that this year, sitting around the middle of the pack in goals scored and goals allowed. Some better finishing (the team is bottom six in shots on goal this year) and Seattle can become the team it was supposed to be.

Minnesota will win if…

Minnesota needs to play high pressure soccer to keep Seattle from establishing a rhythm, and it needs to convert what chances it is given. Missing Osvaldo Alonso is critical for Seattle, and United needs to exploit that gap to have the best chance on Saturday.


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