Facing the Colorado Rapids in the final match of a tight stretch of games - five in two-and-a-half weeks, mostly played in early summer heat - before a brief break for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Minnesota United has a chance to finish a great run of results at the site of their last loss. After dropping points last weekend with a tie against San Jose, a game head coach Adrian Heath described as “a disappointment for what we consider to be two points dropped,” every point counts as the season is about to enter a long summer of play. With a win tonight in Colorado the Loons, currently 6th in the west and tied with three teams sitting on 15 points and another three right behind on 13 points, have a chance to move past the Rapids, currently in fourth with 17 points, earned while playing one less game than the Loons.
Minnesota’s early season trip to Colorado ended in collapse and a loss as the Rapids came back from two goals down to win 3-2. With last weekend’s game against San Jose as well as the earlier loss to Colorado in mind recently engaged Hassani Dotson reflected that “there are spells in games where, absolutely, we’re dominant. We’re playing very nicely, loads of possession. When we do that, go up a couple it’s kind of natural to play slower, go on the back foot, hold the lead. But as we’re learning in this league, the score line can change very quickly. We’ve got a lot of leaders in this group and we know it’s unacceptable. We’ve got a lot to prove to ourselves and other people.” But that early loss to Colorado now seems like a different season as the Loons have since gone unbeaten in seven, with four clean sheets in the run. The two goals given up against San Jose over the weekend matched the total conceded in their previous six games.
Much of the Loons good run of results can be attributed to a tightening up of the defense and the slow build to final form of their new offense.
Though Dayne St. Clair played very well during the team’s very bad start, Tyler Miller has been exceptional since taking over the starting spot in goal. His .57 goals against average is tied for second in the league. And the defensive line has eliminated their early season individual mistakes, returning to the stoutness of the their best 2019 and 2020 form.
But if the two goals allowed to San Jose can at least in part be attributed to the shuffled back line, with Jukka Raitala playing for the absent Romain Métanire and Brent Kallman being subbed on after the injury to Michael Boxall, tonight’s game provides little return to stability. Métanire is still possibly unavailable while Boxall remains out do to the thigh injury suffered against San Jose and Bakaye Dibassy is also listed as questionable with a thigh injury. Playing three in the back might be a necessity, or Kallman and Raitala may be paired along side Dotson. Whatever the team decides to do, the defense will certainly be tested against a Rapids offense that is finding its form under head coach Robin Fraser.
On the other end of the field tonight should be the first full match with all of the Loons’ new offense in place. Getting the assist on Kallman’s improbable goal against San Jose Franco Fragapane, who will not face disciplinary measures after an MLS investigation “could not corroborate or refute” Diego Chara’s allegation of Fragapane’s use of racist language against him in the game against the Timbers, has an assist in his last three games, tallying two goals and three assists in his first four appearances as a Loon. And with Adrien Hunou fully integrated into the team, Robin Lod returned from international duty, and Ernesto Reynoso now fully fit, this is an offense with high expectations. In it’s new final form it will also hopefully relieve some pressure from Reynoso as teams will no longer be able to so singularly focus on him, reversing one quite telling statistic from early in the season: while MNUFC as a team has had the fourth fewest fouls committed against them, Reynoso as an individual is tied for sixth most fouls committed against him.
The recent success of the Rapids has come from Fraser’s ability to get the best out of established talent while also developing young players. His team also continues to be exceptionally good at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Loons have never won, only suffering two losses in their last sixteen at home while scoring at least one goal in their last twenty-nine in Colorado, a league leading streak. As Heath said of the Rapids, “they’re always traditionally good at home... [and] they’re obviously playing with a lot of confidence. Robin [Fraser] has done a great job there in the short period that he’s been there and we know it’s going to be tough…. [W]e know they’re going to be well-organized, well-motivated.”
But Fraser’s success may make tonight’s game more difficult as two of Colorado’s young stars - defender Sam Vines and forward Jonathan Lewis - have both been called up to the USMNT for CONCACAF Gold Cup play. Kellyn Acosta, who Fraser has helped become relevant again for the national team, has also been called up but will not report until after tonight’s game. The big question for the Rapids will be the health of captain Jack Price who, as the playmaking midfielder complementing the defensive midfield work of Acosta, provides the formal structure to this Rapids team. Even with Michael Barrios (3 goals, 3 assists), Cole Bassett (2 goals, 1 assist), and Diego Rubio (3 goals, 1 assist) all finding their form it is hard to know how this team will work without Price.
With a tie against Seattle at home Colorado, like Minnesota, feels like they dropped points over the weekend. Both teams will come into the game tonight looking to make up some lost ground, hoping to separate themselves from the rest of the middle-of-the-pack teams in the west.
Jonathan Lewis - out (international duty)
Younes Namli - out (injury)
Jack Price - questionable (injury)
Sam Vines - out (international duty)
Michael Boxal - out (left thigh injury)
Bakaye Dibassy - questionable (left thigh injury)
Dayne St. Clair - out (international duty)