The last time Minnesota United FC hosted to Real Salt Lake, the Loons thrashed them 4-0. That match, which took place on Sept. 6, highlighted every strength this Loons side had to offer, both defensively and offensively. However, this time around it won’t be so simple: Salt Lake has their eyes set on the three points they need to jump the Loons in the Western Conference table.
Heading into the match that took place on Sept. 6, both sides were depleted in terms of injuries and energy, and they had both played a midweek match four days prior to their meeting. The advantage for the Loons, though, was a healthy starting XI that has consistently played together over the course of the restart. Real Salt Lake wasn’t as lucky, with Freddy Juarez’s side fielding eight players against the Loons who wouldn’t typically find themselves in a starting role. Following their loss to the Loons, Jaurez said that he thought it was a difficult match, but didn’t feel as though the Loons were as good of a side as they showed in the second half that evening.
“It’s tough. Overall though, good first half and not a good second half, and it’s tough because I don’t think Minnesota is four goals better than us,” Juarez said.
Since their last meeting, the Loons carry a 1-3 record, with zero points away from home, whereas RSL is 2-2 at home over their last four matches. Those two wins include an impressive six points claimed, two clean sheets earned and a plus-5 goal differential against both Los Angeles teams — the Galaxy and LAFC. Although the Loons continue to struggle away from home, with their last road win coming on March 7th against the San Jose Earthquakes, they continue to showcase their best qualities as a soccer team on the pitch at Allianz Field. The Loons sport a 2-1 record at home this season, with a plus-6 goal differential (nine goals for and three goals against).
Following a narrow 2-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew Wednesday evening, Loons head coach Adrian Heath acknowledged the Loons struggles of late, followed by his disdain for their lack of home matches during both August and September. But he also highlighted a positive: Minnesota could have some “fresh faces” back for Sunday’s clash at Allianz Field.
“Obviously, results change the way that you are mentally. And, at this moment in time, with the away games that we’ve had, it’s been mentally tough for the guys. You know, if you’re winning games, you don’t feel as tired. That’s a given. I’ve been through this. But, at this moment in time, this has been a tough stretch for us. And we know that,” Heath said.
“To welcome a couple of games at home. But, we know they’re not going to be easy because everybody is in the same boat. People are preparing the best they can. As I said, if you look at some of the lineups, teams are making a lot of changes. But, we need to get some players fit, so we can actually rotate them a wee bit more than we are doing in terms of putting people in the right spots rather than making six or seven changes. It would be nice to make three or four each game and keep livening and freshening it up. Hopefully this weekend we will get a couple of bodies back.”
Heath confirmed that the Loons will have defender Bakaye Dibassy available, with the looming possibility of veterans Ozzie Alonso and Ethan Finlay returning from injury. Starting winger Kevin Molino didn’t feature against the Crew on Wednesday after being subbed off late due to what was said to be a “cramp” against the Houston Dynamo on Sept. 19, but he is set for a return to the XI following a week of rest.
Both Juarez and Heath will have the ability to put forth two starting XI teams consisting of regular starters, but rotation is also a possibility. Nonetheless, these are the predicted lineups ahead of Sunday evening:
Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake will both roll out in their classic 4-2-3-1 formation, with each team attempting to play through their Designated Player No.10. For the Loons, it’s Emmanuel Reynoso, whereas RSL has Slovakian International Albert Rusnak fortifying their attack.
Players To Watch
MNUFC: Kevin Molino
The Trinidad and Tobago international has been the Loons leading scorer since the MLS restart in the middle of August. He’s scored three goals and tallied an assist over his last four matches. The Loons will look to combine on the counter through his pace and ball-control-ability.
RSL: Albert Rusnak
The Slovakian international has been integral to the success of RSL this season, with him adding two goals and an assist as an attacking midfielder in his past four matches. In both wins RSL have since their trashing at Allianz Field, Rusnak has either scored or assisted.
Minnesota United will look to continue their success at home this season, with a crucial three points on the line for both sides. Heading into Sunday, both teams sit side-by-side in the MLS Western Conference table with the Loons resting at 18 points in 7th place and RSL at 17 in 8th. If the Loons come away with three points, they could jump to as high as 2nd or 3rd place in the table, pending the results of other matches. RSL could climb as high as 4th.