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Preview: Matchday 20, Minnesota United vs. Sporting Kansas City

The greatest rivalry in sport continues as the Loons host an in form Sporting Kansas City

SOCCER: DEC 03 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal - Minnesota United FC at Sporting KC Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a disappointing midweek tie in San Jose, Minnesota United face Sporting Kansas City for the first time this season in a nationally televised game. “It’s a big occasion for us,” head coach Adrian Heath noted. “Live on telly. Let’s go show everybody what we’re about.”

The matchup has historically gone Kansas City’s way, with Minnesota taking only four of their twelve meetings, while holding out for two ties. In their last match, though, Minnesota undid Sporting with a decisive three goal win in the 2020 conference semifinals. With Kansas City returning to the head of the class in the league this season, currently in second place in the West, this afternoon’s game offers Minnesota a chance to prove that they are serious contenders for a strong playoff run while redeeming their poor performance against the Quakes.

Like Minnesota, Kansas City comes into the game off a mid-week tie, having grabbed a late-gained point Wednesday night at home against Portland through an injury time goal from Dániel Sallói. Both teams are also in the midst of a busy August, with Kansas City playing six league games, in addition to their League Cup match, in the month, while Minnesota is playing five. At Thursday’s training Tyler Miller noted that this season “the games are just tighter. The amount of turnaround that’s happening, I think teams are just not able to push for that second goal all the time or that killer goal that really holds it down. We’re just seeing a kind of overflow from last year and last season and how it’s affecting the games and we’re seeing a lot more closer results and teams that are staying in it for longer throughout the game.”

As their league standing indicates, Kansas City is an in-form team, especially on the road, unbeaten away from home in their last five, with four wins and a draw, and 6-3-1 on the road all season. A 6-3-1 mark that is the same as Minnesota’s home record this year. The Loons have only given up seven goals in their ten home matches and so, at least by that measure, this seems to be an evenly matched game.

But Minnesota’s defense will certainly be tested against one of the hottest offenses in the league. Kansas City boasts a +15 goal differential and are second in the league in shots as well as goals with 36. Much of that productivity comes through Sallói on the left, who is tied for second in the league with twelve goals, and first in the league for being a part of eighteen goals in total. Not far behind for Kansas City is Mexico international Alan Pulido with 8 goals and 3 assists from the center of the attack. Minnesota, meanwhile, with an often in-flux defensive line, has recorded six clean sheets, and continues to be anchored by Miller, who is maintaining an impressive 73.5% saves rate. So here again this looks to be a good match-up of strength-against-strength for Minnesota.

The offense has often begun deep for Kansas City this season, organized around the play of central defender Andreau Fontás and central midfielder Rémi Walter. Walter has simply taken over the middle of the field for Sporting of late, with a 94% passer rating while winning 62% of his duels and 71% of tackles. In all, this game might turn on Minnesota’s ability to apply high pressure to Fontás and slow down Walter, while also locking down the preferred left side of Kansas City’s attack; in other words, a strong showing from Hassani Dotson, Brent Kallman or Michael Boxall, who remains fit to play, Romain Métanire, and Wil Trapp.

It will also turn on Minnesota’s ability to figure out its own offense. But with Franco Fragapane, Niko Hansen, and Robin Lod still out, Ján Greguš and Jacori Hayes both questionable, and Adrien Hunou yet to find the team’s rhythm, that might be difficult. Given his success against Kansas City, leading all current Loons with three goals against them, this sets-up to be a good time to give Juan Agudelo a start. But with the list of injuries he has been dealing with this season, as well as a bit of stubbornness, Heath has been hesitant to rotate his team, especially up front. Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes has also been hesitant to rotate his team with key injuries, only trusting the kids in their League Cup game against Club León, a trust that ended in a 6-1 defeat.

In a game that the league is trying to bill as a rivalry, Kansas City will try to find another 90 minutes of fitness while keeping their top of the league form through a difficult August, while Minnesota has another chance to make a statement on national television and secure their place in the playoff hunt.

Availability:

Minnesota United FC:

Franco Fragapane: out (thigh)

Niko Hansen - out (hamstring)

Robin Lod - out (leg)

Dayne St. Clair - out (health and safety protocols)

Ján Greguš - questionable (ankle)

Jacori Hayes - questionable (hamstring)

Sporting KC:

Nicolas Isimat-Mirin - out (hamstring)

Jaylin Lindsey - out (hamstring)

Felipe Hernandez - out (personal reasons)