There are few matches Minnesota United could play after its 5-1 undressing by Philadelphia in which one would expect a victory. Fortunately, a home match against the Colorado Rapids counts as one such game. While Minnesota’s season has been disappointing, Colorado’s has been devastating. So what will it take to convert “should have won” into three points in the bank?
The Denver end of the season series was a goal-filled affair, with the Rapids emerging with 3-2 victory courtesy of a late winner. Minnesota came away with a loss despite being the stronger team on the balance of play throughout the night. In 2017, Colorado supplied the Loons with their first-ever MLS point in a 2-2 draw, a match in which Minnesota held on with ten men for half an hour. United secured all three points in a 1-0 home win several weeks later. The two clubs have also had an active trade partnership, with Minnesota shipping players like Josh Gatt, Mohamed Saied, and Sam Nicholson, with Colorado returning Marc Burch, Sam Cronin, Eric Miller, and Joseph Greenspan.
|Referee||Guido Gonzalez, Jr.|
M Sam Cronin (cervicogenic dysfunction) – Out
M Kevin Molino (torn ACL) – Out
M Ethan Finlay (torn ACL) – Out
M Colin Martin (right ankle injury) – Out
D Francisco Calvo (international duty) – Out
F Abu Danladi (right leg injury) – Questionable
M Romario Ibarra (hamstring injury) – Questionable
M Sam Nicholson (back injury) – Out
F Jack McBean (foot/toe injury) – Out
M Kellyn Acosta (international duty) – Out
D Kortne Ford (knee injury) – Questionable
Colorado is not a good soccer team. The club has lost seven straight games. They have 24 points on the season, twelve fewer than lowly Minnesota, and are averaging 0.77 points per game. The Rapids have the second-worst road record in MLS (I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess who has the worst) with only six points earned from possible 45. No team has a worse goal differential, an eye-popping -30. They have scored the fewest goals in MLS this season (32), well below the next lowest total, and are a part of the scrum of teams competing to break the Loons’ record for most goals allowed in a single season. Their current goals leader has three goals. Their current assists leader is a defender. Colorado Rapids fans have had their patience tested much more bitterly than United fans, and they have no dim glow of a brand new stadium lingering in the horizon to look forward to.
In the meantime, there is not a single team in the Western Conference with more home wins than Minnesota United; a fact easy to overlook in the shadow of the club’s despondent road form. The Loons have not just been winning at home this year, they have been downright fun to watch. They are often varied and dynamic going forward with stars like Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra at their best on TCF Bank Stadium’s quick turf.
On paper and with no caveats, Minnesota should win this match handily. In truth, however, each team is formally out of playoff contention and might view the occasion as one to experiment with tactics, formations, and players. In the case of United, one might hope to see some variety. With some promising young players waiting in the wings (such as Mason Toye, Wyatt Omsberg, Carter Manley, and Abu Danladi), a defense that has been thoroughly disappointing this season, and one eye on 2019, it would be almost foolish not to play with ideas and learn more about the fringe players on the roster. Alexi Gómez, for example, is a known quantity at winger. Romario Ibarra and Danladi, however, are young guys that have seen comparatively limited minutes this year, and playing either of them on the wing would give them time to gel with the rest of the players. At the very least doing so would help decide their long-term function on the team.
So, the game should be tough to predict. Both clubs stand to benefit from experimentation late in the year. If Minnesota plays its obvious starters, it will probably win on Saturday, but perhaps lose a much longer game.
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