This will be the first time Minnesota has played an MLS team with a past MLS encounter to draw from. United earned its first ever MLS point in an unlikely road draw in week three. The game featured goals from Kevin Molino and Christian Ramirez, then a hold-on-for-dear-life finish after left back Justin Davis was shown red in the second half.
Fotis Bazakos has been at or near the top of the referee heap since 2013 in terms of both fouls per game and yellow cards per game. He also is one of a handful of referees in 2017 who is averaging a yellow card per game for dissent. Players will want to keep their play clean and their attitudes positive to stay on the right side of the law. Of special interest to Minnesotans, Bazakos is himself a native Minnesotan whose family has been prominent in United States refereeing for multiple generations.
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
GK Bobby Shuttleworth (concussion) – Questionable
M Rasmus Schüller (hip flexor) – Questionable
LB Marc Burch (groin) – Questionable
GK Tim Howard (suspended) – Out
D Jared Watts (suspended) – Out
D Axel Sjöberg (hamstring) – Out
M Bismark Adjei-Boateng (back) – Out
M Dillon Serna (calf) – Questionable
Among other lineup choices throughout the season, one interesting story has been who should be the team’s starting left winger: Bashkim Kadrii or Miguel Ibarra. Against Houston, head coach Adrian Heath went for “none of the above,” opting to push Rasmus Schüller out left. Fans did not get much of a look at the result of this experiment, with Schüller heading off with injury in the first half. His status is still questionable, as was Minnesota’s first-half performance against Houston. So the Kadrii-Ibarra question will be back on.
For his part, Ibarra looked good in the second half of that Houston game. His speed helped provide some danger on the left side, including a key pass to Molino on which Molino perhaps should have scored. Ibarra also was good tracking back on defense for the most part. That Heath chose to sub on Ibarra rather than Kadrii may suggest that the coach is ready to give the former León player a deeper look and that he will see the starting lineup on Sunday.
As easy as it may be to denigrate the Rapids, one must remember they have two games in hand on Minnesota and a higher points-per-game. Two wins in those games would put them firmly in the playoff realm. Also, they sit only on a minus-three goal differential despite their poor standing, suggesting that last year’s kings of winning every close game are just finding themselves on the losing end of close games more often so far in 2017.
But Colorado does have some major questions lingering and the problems start in the attack. On five goals scored this year, only the tearfully-poor D.C. United has scored fewer. Defense has been the hallmark of this Rapids team for two years, but that approach must yield strong possession and passing out of the back. The sub-40 percent possession and 63 percent pass success rate last week against Real Salt Lake will not turn into success for a team that is trying to adopt a more attacking identity.
So about that defense. Eight goals allowed this year puts the club in the middle of the pack, but with fewer games played than all but one other team. Colorado lost left back Marc Burch and defensive midfielder Sam Cronin in a trade to Minnesota several weeks ago. Meanwhile the team’s best two remaining defenders — Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts — will watch from from the sidelines from injury and suspension, respectively. In addition, Colorado’s starting goalkeeper Tim Howard intimated in Kansas City that he had engaged in sins of the flesh with a fan’s mother and will not see the pitch for that exchange. Put that defense against one of the league’s top five offenses in Minnesota, and the situation is ripe for some goals.
Colorado is a defensive team whose defense has been plundered by trade and injury. Its offense still has not taken shape and its one goal per game will inspire nightmares in no one. This is a team headed in the wrong direction.
Compare it to Minnesota, which has a downright stellar offense and with a defense that is bad but at least stabilizing (if only giving up two goals is stabilizing). This is a team headed in the right direction. Look for Minnesota to test the Colorado back line early and often, even if that means taking some shots from distance or at low percentage angles. They will want the Rapids on their back feet, with doubt creeping in and defending desperately. That is where they will begin to make mistakes and where Minnesota will take advantage.
Minnesota has a very good offense but it has hardly been clinical in finishing its chances. If Colorado can bunker in and keep Minnesota from getting a lot of truly good looks and tap ins, then all it takes is one or two good counter attacks to take advantage of a Minnesota defense that is usually good for at least two head scratching errors per game. It is hardly impossible.
This is the first game in which Minnesota is truly favored to win. All the team needs to do is finish the chances it will inevitably have and limit its errors on defense. If that sounds like a generic summary that could be said about any game, so be it. This is not rocket science. For once, Minnesota is the better team that just needs to put two and two together to have a very good evening.
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Tags: Axel Sjoberg, Bashkim Kadrii, Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, Johan Venegas, Justin Davis, Kevin Molino, Marc Burch, Match Preview, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, rasmus schuller, Real Salt Lake, Sam Cronin, Tim Howard