Beware the loon.
According to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, the waterfowl “are known for their soliloquy of cries, wails, and yodels; their eerie, echoing calls are a distinctive feature of Minnesota’s northern lakes.”
Wayne Rooney and D.C. United venture into these loon-ridden waters on Sunday, when the cross-conference opponents face off for the first and only time this season at the shiny new Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Both teams will be on short rest for the midday clash, as the Black-and-Red are fresh off a 1-0 away win over the Columbus Crew, while the Loons drew Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy last night.
(Complete sidebar: This is also a game between two teams who clearly and objectively boast top 10 or maybe even top five crests.)
Here are three things you’ll want to know about the hosts before Ben Olsen’s squad heads north.
1. MNUFC haven’t won since early April, but they’re still on form
The Loons’ last win came on April 6 when they topped the New York Red Bulls 2-1. Since then, they’ve drawn NYCFC, lost to Toronto, and drawn the LA Galaxy. Two points in three games isn’t great, and one win in the last six sounds even worse, but don’t let the results fool you: Minnesota United are playing some pretty good soccer. Of course, “pretty good soccer” doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Results do. And if this team wants to make their first MLS playoffs, they’ll need to start winning some games.
Last night in Saint Paul, United hosted and, for large stretches of the game, dominated LA; they just couldn’t punch through the back of the net. Although they only logged a single shot on goal, their 12 shots total (to LA’s 10) and their ability to penetrate the penalty area are indicative of how dangerous they made themselves. Only three of those 12 attempts were launched outside the box; it’s not like Darwin Quintero was firing missiles from 35 yards out.
What’s more, Minnesota managed the draw without regular starters Francisco Calvo and Jan Gregus, who were sitting out with red card suspensions.
In the game prior to LA — in which Calvo and Gregus earned their suspensions — Minnesota lost a back-and-forth battle to Toronto, a game in which they held a lead on two separate occasions. Gregus’ tackle is so nasty it’s worth watching:
Straight red card to Jan Gregus for a horrific scissor tackle. He could've seriously injured Alejandro Pozuelo. Multi-game suspension needed, can't have challenges like that in the league.#TORvMIN #MLS #TFCLive pic.twitter.com/aiTZgmrHwO— Joga Bonito (@Jasoninho10) April 20, 2019
Not great, Bob!
2. On the origin of MNUFC’s goals, by Darwin Quintero
As Matthew Doyle pointed out last night, one thing the Columbus Crew lack is the cream-of-the-crop attacking talent that can win you a guy you don’t deserve to win (ahem, Rooney). Minnesota do not lack that talent, because they’ve got Darwin Quintero. Last year in his first splash into the MLS, the Colombian-born naturalized citizen of Mexico logged 11 goals and dished out 15 assists. With five goals and three assists on the books already in 2019, he’s on his way to another good season.
Also, he can do stuff like this:
Dar·win·ism— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 9, 2018
1 The theory of the evolution of goals by natural selection advanced by Darwin Quintero
Vote @darwinJR3 for Goal of the Week » https://t.co/tpH3wyitA4 pic.twitter.com/Ru0yxuTzcC
And this is fun:
3. Tiny tactics: a favorite side & possession
Minnesota have a favorite place to attack: the right side of the field.
In virtually every game this season, the Loons have concentrated at least 40 percent of their attacking movement to that third of the field. Much of that movement is propelled by Gregus driving through the midfield on the right-hand side of a double pivot (Minnesota runs a lot of 4-2-3-1, but they’ve also played a three-man back line as well as a 4-4-2). Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez will stay fairly anchored in the center of the pitch, with Gregus and Ethan Finley carrying the ball forward. Right back Romain Metanire also plays a bit more aggressively than his counterpart on the left side, Calvo.
Another thing: Minnesota don’t possess a lot of the ball. In fact, they’ve only won the possession battle a single time this year, and that was by a 51/49 margin over the New England Revolution. D.C. United aren’t Manchester City or anything in terms of possession, but they’ve controlled games a bit more than Minnesota. Who wins the possession battle in Saint Paul will be an interesting mini-skirmish.
For D.C. United, this is a chance to add even more points to a ridiculously good road record; the Black-and-Red have 10 points with three wins and a draw away from Audi Field. For Minnesota United, this is a chance to win their first home game of the year and to take seriously the playoff push.