Minnesota United FC will be attempting to make history in Kansas City tonight. Since they entered Major League Soccer in 2017, they have never won a match at Children’s Mercy Park. Through six attempts, they’ve failed to find a result and have only scored one goal. Tonight presents a different opportunity, however; this is a re-invented Loons squad that is in incredible form.
A win tonight means a berth in the Western Conference final with the Seattle Sounders, and a chance at MLS Cup. How the Loons squeeze out of “The Blue Hell,” with a win is going to be the looming question leading up to kickoff. With a full-strength XI and the talented attacking trio of Robin Lod, Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso, anything seems possible right now.
Here’s how I would expect each team to roll out of the gate tonight:
Key players for MNUFC
Ozzie Alonso: Alonso is a leader and a proven winner. If there is one player you have to have out there on the field tonight it’s the captain. He made his return from a lengthy injury against the Colorado Rapids in the quarterfinals, but now that he’s back to full strength, his inclusion is a no-brainer. If there is one player who has the experience and ability to break up for the counter from SKC, it’s Ozzie.
Robin Lod: The Finnish winger’s 2020 revival HAS to be the story of the season. He has proved so many wrong, myself included. My expectation is to see Lod up top as the lone striker (which is actually a false-nine) tonight for the Loons. Lod has been an integral goalscorer for the Loons this season while also adding his own tally of assists as well. Lod has the chemistry to create tiki-taka-esque attacks for the Loons with Molino and Reynoso, but those attacks do not happen without the Fin. I expect him to be the Loons most important attacker this evening.
Key players for Sporting Kansas City
Gianluca Busio: Busio is Peter Vermes’ starlet. He has a future with the USMNT and is becoming one of the most well-rounded midfielders in the league. In a mid-October report from ESPN, he was linked with Spanish giants FC Barcelona for an offseason transfer. Busio can play a variety of positions, and his movement in the middle of the pitch is absolutely brilliant at times. He’ll be a tough player to mark for Jan Gregus and Alonso, but the two are up to the task. Of note: Busio scored AND assisted on both of SKC’s goals in regular and extra time against the San Jose Earthquakes in the quarterfinals.
Alan Pulido: Vermes shelled out nearly $10 million to bring Pulido to SKC, and so far he’s looked the part. He has tallied 6 goals and 5 assists over 12 matches, nearly finding himself on the scoresheet in every game. He missed the quarterfinal match against San Jose due to a minor injury, but in a press conference on Monday, Vermes states that Pulido is healthy and ready to go. The talisman will be looking to break out on the counter and find the back of the net early for SKC. His versatility, speed and composure are a tough task for the Loons defense, but they’ve played him twice already this season and know what to expect.
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia is not only one of the best American goalkeepers to play the game, but it’s fair to say he might be the best goalkeeper in North America when it comes to penalty kicks. In their quarterfinal clash with San Jose, Melia saved all four (ALL FOUR) of the Quakes’ kicks from the spot to see his team advance to the conference semifinals.
On the other end of the pitch lies the young Canadian for the Loons: Dayne St. Clair. DSC has had a phenomenal debut season for the Loons and has been integral to their playoff run so far. He’s held seven clean sheets through 11 appearances this season. The kid has stood tall and earned his spot as one of the breakout MLS stars of 2020. If the match ends up going to penalties, it’s going to be the league veteran versus the young gun, a matchup that would be thrilling to see.