Early in the week, a week that many considered to be the biggest of the season for Minnesota United, head coach Adrian Heath said that he would be happy getting 4 or 5 points from the three games to be played. “I’d probably settle for four, before the week started, four or five points?” the head coach said after the team’s close loss to Seattle. “We’ve still got an opportunity. We’ll see.” But after being thoroughly undone by first place Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday any points from the week must now feel like a success.
Facing an LA Galaxy side they have never beat but that has lost a bit of its form, a win at home tonight should be expected. “Home games are huge for us,” Chase Gasper said on Friday. “[T]he fan base that we have, the 12th man factor that they bring. We know we play really well at home and with 11 games left in the season, six of them at home, we really gotta take advantage of those games. We’re expecting to get three points on Saturday and we’re not going to settle for less.”
The night, though, may not feel exactly like a home game. In response to MNUFC’s failure to enact adequate COVID-19 policies, especially as the metro area and the state experience a rise in cases and a growing pressure on hospital capacity, the supporter’s groups will go without designated leaders, capos as they are traditionally known, at the game.
Given the continued threat of the COVID pandemic, and lacking any vaccine or testing requirements from the club, we're going to play it safe and go without organized capos for Saturday's match. We value the health and safety of our volunteers and their families.— Dark Clouds ☁ ️ #DCMN (@MNDarkClouds) September 17, 2021
The atmosphere at Allianz Field has been noticeably more subdued this season, even after returning to full capacity, but tonight the fans will see if the team can itself generate a level of excitement equal to the importance of the match.
The two biggest on-field storylines of the night feature the team’s offenses. For the LA Galaxy that means the recent return of Chicharito. Even after missing 12 matches the resurgent star is the Galaxy’s leading scorer, netting 11 goals in 12 appearances, good enough for 7th most in the league. With recently acquired U22 Initiative signee Dejan Joveljić quickly establishing himself in the line-up the Galaxy are now a work-in-progress up front. “I think it’s a partnership that can certainly flourish,” LA head coach Greg Vanney said after his team’s 1-1 tie against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. “They don’t have many minutes together and [don’t] have many training sessions together either so it’s early days…. [I]t’s a little bit different setup than what we’ve had through the majority of the season, which the whole group has to get used to, which we need a little bit of training time to work through.” If they find their rhythm the Galaxy could be one of the most dangerous offenses heading into the playoffs. For tonight, though, given that Chicharito got two quick starts on Saturday and Wednesday after an extended time away and took a hard knock right before half in the Wednesday game, Vanney will be tempted to give his veteran leader a rest. But with 37 team goals on the season, 3rd best in the Western Conference, the Galaxy can offer up quite a bit of offense with or without Chicharito as they continue to be a well balanced team, with five players with 3 or more goals and 5 players with 3 or more assists.
Minnesota, meanwhile, might finally enjoy the return of their full preferred front four. Franco Fragapane, of course, has been fit enough to get starts in the last two games and Robin Lod, the Loon’s leading scorer with 6 on the season, was able to get a short run-out mid-week at Kansas City. Although announced as available, Emanuel Reynoso was left off the team on Wednesday and is listed as questionable for tonight, but in his comments Heath has said the Loons’ playmaker should be available. Adrien Hunou has remained healthy, even as he has struggled to find his form out of position as a lone striker and has yet to gain the full fitness to go a strong 90 minutes. After struggling all season to generate any kind of offense, 4th worst in the league with 24 total goals, Minnesota’s season rests in part on the ability of those four to quickly re-learn to play together.
But the team’s ability to generate any offense in the final push of the season will also depend on Gasper’s ability to find a rhythm with Fragapane on the left side of the field and on the midfield to sort itself out, especially with Hassani Dotson and Ján Greguš both still unavailable. As has become evident over the course of the season, the team has not been able to play with the double pivot pairing of Ozzie Alonso and Wil Trapp, but Heath has seemed hesitant to start Jacori Hayes in a two-man midfield. If Reynoso is unable to go all 90 minutes the midfield pairing will become even more important tonight both to slow LA’s attack and to close the massive gaps in the middle of the field that plagued the team in Kansas City.
For most of the season the West has been characterized by a top four and a middling rest. But after their win against Minnesota in August LA has fallen off the pace, only able to collect 3 points from 5 games, and is now fighting for a home playoff spot with Portland. Minnesota comes into tonight’s game having dropped below the playoff line into eighth place after getting only 2 wins in their last 9 games. Earlier in the season, when Minnesota was simply trying to recover from their horrible start, any points were good and a long unbeaten streak was to be celebrated. But now, fighting for the playoffs in a very congested field where 6 points separates sixth place Salt Lake from eleventh place San Jose, it is not enough to simply remain unbeaten, wins are necessary.
At the beginning of the 2021 season LA was one of the most surprising teams in the league, having achieved a stunning rebuild after bringing in eighteen new players and a new coach. Minnesota, meanwhile, was one of the most disappointing, lost for ideas and without a coherent offense after looking, in 2019 and 2020, like they had finally turned a corner into respectability. Tonight is a chance for both these teams to show if those early appearances were right. Have the Galaxy pulled off a remarkable turn-around to become, once again, a top team in the league? Or was it too much too soon as they fade down the stretch? And has Minnesta become a quality team in the league, able to consistently contend for a home playoff game? Or are they a team reliant on strong defensive performances but lacking the quality of form to consistently contend at the top of the table?
Juan Agudelo - out (thigh)
Hasani Dotson - out (knee)
Ján Greguš - out (ankle)
Niko Hansen - out (hamstring)
Justin McMaster - out (thigh)
Emanuel Reynoso - questionable (thigh)
Jonathan Bond - questionable
Derrick Williams - questionable