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Battle of the Birds: MNUFC vs NYCFC

MNUFC’s depth will be tested tonight against NYCFC

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Real Salt Lake Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Loons miniature homestand continues against Eastern Conference foe New York City FC. The fates of the two clubs this year are a stark contrast as NYCFC have all but locked up their playoff spot, while the Loons are holding an extended tryout for next season. Tonight’s visitors sit in third place in the East on 53 points, effectively out of community shield contention, but also not in jeopardy of dropping out of the playoff race.

New York City FC v Los Angeles FC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Pigeons are lead by rival of Father Time, David Villa, who is somewhat off the pace this year with only 12 goals in his 21 appearances. The slack has been picked up by Libyan winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Maxi Moralez. With the Loons back up the their full compliment of centerbacks, there should be a good battle going on to dominate the attacking third. In New York’s most recent game, the aforementioned attacking trio lined up in an inverted triangle with Moralez underneath the two attackers. The middle of the park was locked down by 18 year old youth world cup veteran James Sands. In that game, New York ran out 2-0 winners with two quick second half strikes from Villa and Alex Ring.

The first step in keeping New York’s potent attack quiet lies in cutting off the supply in the midfield. Earlier this week, the Loon’s lost their appeal for Fernando Bob’s red card and had already lost Maximiano to yellow card accumulation. This means the Loons return to pre-Bob days. Remember those? Maximiano was one rush of blood to the head away from being sent off and Ibson was scoring back heels for fun.

March 17, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Ibson celebrates his goal during the Minnesota United vs Chicago Fire match at TCF Bank Stadium.
March 17, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Ibson celebrates his goal during the Minnesota United vs Chicago Fire match at TCF Bank Stadium.
Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography

The good thing for Heath is that he has a plug and play solution with Ibson and Schuller. That midfield combination has started more games together for the Loons than any other pair. That isn’t saying much with Heath’s propensity for change and the small sample size, but they do have some chemistry together. The key will be if the Loons can adapt back to their old style fast enough to stymie the visitors. The Ibson/Schuller double pivot worked well enough for a while, and the benefit of being at home should help the transition got more smoothly. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but a rare shot back in the team together after the success of the Bob/Maxi paring should motivate them a little bit more than usual.

Key Battle: Outside backs vs Ibarras

Both of New York’s outside backs are dangerous going forward. Anton Tinnerholm has four goals and five assists this season and Ronald Mararrita, while less prolific that his Swedish counterpart, can be dangerous if left unchecked. The Loons have generally been better at home and had more of the ball, and if they use that to pin NYCFC’s outside backs in their own end, it will go a long way to cutting off the supply to the forwards.