- When? Wednesday, September 12, 2018, 6:30 CT (7:30 ET)
- Where? Audi Field, Washington, D.C.
- Broadcast? Fox Sports North
Our long national nightmare is over. After 17 days, Minnesota United FC have a game again, traveling to the nation’s capital to face a D.C. United side that kicks off a seven game home stand. The Loons will go against a team surging toward a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, fueled by the opening of a new stadium and, more importantly, the presence of Wayne Rooney. Since July 14—the day of the stadium’s opening and the first appearance of Rooney—the Black and Reds have been 6-4-2, after starting the year 2-7-5.
The surge has been partly fueled by their imbalanced home/away schedule, having played just two games before the opening of Audi Field at Washington-area sites, but Rooney’s late career renaissance in MLS has been nothing short of remarkable. Wazza currently leads MLS players (minimum 500 minutes) in assists per 96 and ranks sixteenth in expected goals plus assists per 96. He’s also reinvigorated the team’s attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta. Before Rooney joined, Acosta scored one goal with six assists in thirteen games; after his introduction, Acosta has tallied six goals and three assists in twelve, with Rooney assisting on four goals and Acosta sending one assist to Rooney.
It’s fair to just ignore last July’s 4-0 thrashing the Loons put down against D.C. at TCF Bank Stadium. Of the 14 players who appeared for D.C. in that fixture, only six are still on their active roster. The likes of Lloyd Sam and Marcelo Sarvas have been swapped for Paul Arriola—eligible for selection after his release from U.S. National Team camp—and Russell Canouse. Kofi Opare and Jalen Robinson have worked their way into the back line, and Wayne Rooney has been a transformative figure in the same vein as Darwin Quintero.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that D.C. face the same levels of decimation to their lineup from injuries and international callups that Minnesota currently have. The Loons will be without the suspended Francisco Calvo and Michael Boxall, as well as the in-transit Rasmus Schuller and Romario Ibarra; D.C. counter with Zoltan Stieber, Oniel Fisher, Junior Moreno, and Bruno Miranda all away with their national teams, as well as injuries to Nick DeLeon and David Ousted plus a knock to Yamil Asad. With those players plus Arriola and Darren Mattocks unavailable, D.C. ran out a four-man bench against New York City FC on Saturday, yet still came within touching distance of a road win before David Villa’s long free kick to equalize.
Two big questions persist for the Loons this time out. Minnesota’s two-plus week break came at a point where the team desperately needed to get new players and its walking wounded back up to speed. Angelo Rodriguez is still adjusting to his new club, Fernando Bob is getting back to full fitness following his recent signing, and (though he’s off with Ecuador currently) Romario Ibarra’s match fitness has him competing for starting minutes. Meanwhile, head coach Adrian Heath’s comments suggest that Darwin Quintero’s calf issue has healed to the point where he’s eligible for selection against both D.C. and Real Salt Lake on Saturday, Maximiano is no longer on the injury report, and Jerome Thiesson returned against Sporting Kansas City from a lengthy layoff due to a hip problem—albeit due to Eric Miller suffering a muscle pull during the first half. Miller is reportedly out for the D.C. game, as is Alexi Gomez. How many of those players can expect to feature in this match?
The other big question is whether or not the Loons move away from the 3-5-2 with the personnel missing. With Calvo and Boxall both suspended, Minnesota are down to three natural center backs on the roster: Brent Kallman, Wyatt Omsberg, and Bertrand Owundi. If the team wants to roster Fernando Bob, they’ll need to use the international slot vacated by Owundi while he’s on loan with Charlotte Independence, meaning that the team would have to move Jerome Thiesson centrally to play with three at the back. It’s also worth considering that a three-man back line was in part necessitated by the lack of credible defensive midfielders, an issue perhaps allayed by Fernando Bob.
If Minnesota wants to roll with a 3-5-2 still, here’s a potential lineup:
The absence of Rasmus Schuller would create a space for Collin Martin to return to his former club and play as a slightly more reserved #8, though it could be changed to place Collen Warner further back and next to Fernando Bob. It also shifts Miguel Ibarra back to the left to accommodate Carter Manley’s recall from his loan at Las Vegas Lights.
Should the Loons decide to revert back to the 4-2-3-1, you could see something like this:
It’s definitely a risk to play all four healthy defenders in the same lineup with Thiesson coming back from an injury, but the prospect of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta running at the back line gives you reason to play with two anchoring midfielders; moreover, Miguel Ibarra can shift back into a defensive position in a pinch.
Let’s assume, though, that Minnesota wants to fully fire the torpedoes and go with an offense-heavy lineup:
So much striking! I really can’t recommend this with the speed that Paul Arriola boasts on the wing, but this could be the most logical way to build chemistry between the three top attacking options while the team waits for Romario to force his way into the starting lineup. Moreover, should they need to shift players to the wing, they could swap Ibson out for Carter Manley and move either Abu Danladi or Darwin Quintero out to the right with Miguel Ibarra going left.
Are any of those lineups likely to happen? Will it matter in the scoreline? Let us know your predictions in the comments!