Another summer swoon has seen FC Dallas fall from a once promising fourth place spot in the Western Conference down to seventh place, clinging to the playoffs. Dallas has 33 points this season after the disappointing loss last week to Orlando. Now comes Minnesota United, riding high on an 11-match unbeaten run in all competitions that includes nine wins and two draws. The Loons now sit second place in the West with 38 points.
“The Loons have become one of the surprises of the MLS season. After a historically poor debut season, in which they were one of the worst defensive teams in MLS history, Minnesota and manager Adrien Heath have made steady gains the past two seasons to be in the hunt for their first playoff appearance. After striking out heavily on their transfers that first season though, things have started to turn around thanks to a few key imports.”
That was the lead to our preview back in July for the first meeting between these two teams and boy has it held water well. Since that game back on July 13, Minnesota has jumped up to second place in the West and is definitely looking like a real threat in the West. And since the time of the last writing, they have brought in three new transfers to spice things up. First shoring up the midfield with Finnish man Robin Lod. Then upgrading arguably their weakest spot, left back, with French signing Wilfried Moimbe. Finally, they put the finishing touches on things with a young DP signing in Uruguayan sensation Thomas Chacon. Two for the present and one for the future is a nice bit of business for Minnesota. Let’s check out how what to expect from their new signings and how they may impact this game.
Robin Lod can play across the midfield attacking front. He’s a big winger/midfielder hybrid whose game isn’t based speed but spacing. He likes to pop up just behind the run of play and spray through balls or shots from those pockets of open space. He’s most likely coming in to replace Miguel Ibarra who has continued to be an offensive black hole on the left wing. Across the top, Minnesota still has the dynamic duo of Angelo Rodriguez at striker and Darwin Quintero playing the no. 10 spot. Ethan Finlay rounds out things out on the right wing. I’m not sure if this will be the game Lod breaks into the starting eleven, so pencil in Ibarra for the time being. On the bench will be Mason Toye, who broke hearts in our first matchup with his last-minute winner. This brings us to our second “impact” signing – Thomas Chacon. While he only has 20 games of first team action from his native Uruguay, Chacon has loads of potential. When writers at E Pluribus Loonum are comparing him to Darwin Quintero, and possibly as his future replacement – by next year – you know you have something.
All of what was written about Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus last time still applies as well. They are the foundations for how Minnesota plays. Alonso is the defensive mid wrecking opposing teams while Gregus plays the deep lying creator role. Kevin Molino, Hassani Dotson, and new man Lod are all on the bench to provide relief if needed. Heck, even Rasmus Schuller, one of Minnesota’s “big” signings back in 2017, is available off the bench.
And now to the defense, which, after the signing of Wilfried Moimbe, has been totally turned over from last season. We highlighted Ike Opara last time and he and Michael Boxall have been a solid duo in central defense. But it’s Romain Metanire who was the inspiration for new siging Moimbe. Metanire has revolutionized the right flank for Minnesota. Before going away to help with Madagascar’s stunning African Cup of Nations tournament run, Metanire was first on the team in assists. Had he played in the “Cincinnati Massacre” game, he might well still be first. Either way, his bombing runs up and down the right side help unlock all kinds of space and chances for United’s attackers and really helped revolutionize their attack. Now Minnesota has gone back to the French full-back well on the left side with Moimbe. He appears to be another attack minded back with speed to burn, which will allow him to attack while still getting back on defense. Even though Moimbe hasn’t yet made a start, I have him penciled in to make his debut, but Chase Gaspar or Eric Miller could end up in the first XI as well. In goal will still be Vito Mannone. The Italian has started and played every MLS game and minute of the season.
Key Matchup: Ryan Hollingshead vs The Right Wing
It’s not often a defender makes the Key Matchup section, especially a full back. But ol’ dependable Ryan Hollingshead will have a tough matchup this week. It’s not so much that Ethan Finlay is a killer, or that Romain Metanire is…well actually, it is Metanire – along with the presence of Finlay. When you have a full-back who is dangerous on the overlap, it makes the opposing fullbacks (Hollingshead) job really tough. Switching between the two, communicating responsibilities to teammates, and not getting flat burned around the corner are just part of the equation. How Ryan (and Reto Zeigler and who ever starts at left wing) manages the most dangerous part of the Minnesota attack will go a long way in getting a crucial home result.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Counting Stats – For the second straight game Dallas laid a goose egg on the score sheet. While a run of poor offensive results happens to every team, Dallas seems to find the worst possible time to get cold each and every season. If the season is to be salvaged, someone who plays for FC Dallas needs to score a goal or two or three or…
2. Wing Play – Again, a highlight and key from last time these two met, wingers hold the key to the Dallas attack. Just one of them needs to show up and be a danger for our attack to click. Lately, no one has showed up and it’s been a drag. The good news is Edwin Gyasi isn’t as injured as first glance seemed and Michael Barrios can pick up some form as the season winds down. Goodness knows Santiago Mosquera hasn’t done that and hopefully we won’t see Dom Badji playing on the wing anymore.
3. Return to Form – in Defense. I know it was a one game blip, but Dallas can’t afford to let teams start scoring in bunches. The mental strain of performing well on offense should be the sole focus; we don’t want to worry about having to come from behind too. And after the late, late winner from last time these two teams met, I’m sure the back line will be extra motivated to finish the job.
The great gnashing of teeth amongst the fan base (myself included) about how the transfer deadline brought a load of nothing to the team will not be quelled in one week. Even with a win, the goodwill build up would not be enough to silence the screaming about “lack of investment” and “development team mentality” that’s running through the fan base. But take a quick look at the standings and note that second place Minnesota, with their 38 points, is only five points ahead of seventh place Dallas. That’s two wins from Dallas’ perspective to jump right back into the heart of the Western Conference playoff race. A poor run of form by any team ahead of them, coupled with a few good results for the Good Guys and we are all systems go for the playoffs. That said, this will be a tough weekend and I don’t see good results this week or next (vs LAG). A 0-0 draw feels like wishful thinking, but it’s what I expect from our tough D and mediocre attack. Prove me wrong Hoops!
P.S. – Food For Thought – Six of Dallas’ last 10 games are against teams with point totals equal to or below ours. After Minnesota and LA Galaxy, Dallas has a four-game run against Montreal, Houston, Cincinnati, and Chicago. This is where Dallas will have to make their move – and in the final two games against Colorado and Kansas City. The other two games against Seattle and New York City FC will be tough, but we have six games to work things out before then.