Minnesota United FC will travel to Children’s Mercy Park on Thursday evening to play Sporting KC for the fourth time this season. The match, which was originally scheduled to take place Wednesday evening, was moved to Thursday due to an open primetime slot on FOX. It was originally going to be played on FS1.
In a press conference with reporters on Monday, Loons coach Adrian Heath said that the squad will be at full fitness and that they are not experiencing any major injury woes ahead of their first-ever Conference semifinal clash. The concerns going into the match mainly involved captain Ozzie Alonso and right back Romain Metanire, but Heath confirmed both are healthy and participating fully in training.
Heath expanded on the rivalry between the two teams and how a result against SKC in Kansas City would mean a lot to the club. In the Loons way, though, is going to be league superstar Alan Pulido. He has 6 goals and 5 assists in 12 appearances for SKC, and he’s found himself on the scoresheet in nearly every match.
“The size of transfer fee that they paid for him, far and away the most expensive player in SKC’s history, gives you an idea of their thoughts of him,” Heath said. “He is a really good player. He is the full package. He is very good with his back to goal. Very good in front of goal. His link-up play is excellent, his timing of getting in the right spot at the right time is as good as you will see.”
Pulido won’t be the only problem for the Loons, however; they have to overcome the obstacle of past defeat and fear of playing at Children’s Mercy Park. Heath said the team has been “hopeless” when playing there recently, with an 0-5-1 record and a -10 goal differential since 2017.
In training on December 1, Heath elaborated on the intimidation of playing in Kansas City, how the Loons can expect Peter Vermes to show up and more.
“If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve said this before, we haven’t played well. It is an intimidating atmosphere, but that’s because of the opposition,” he said. “Everybody knows I’ve got an incredible respect for Peter [Vermes] and his staff from what they’ve done there. This is a good team, top of the West. We know what’s coming.
“But Peter also knows that if we play like we can, this is not going to be easy for them and that’s all I’m looking for, for us to put our A game on the field. And if we do, we’ll take whatever comes our way. Certainly, we know it’s going to be tough, but we’re not going to go there afraid of competing and trying to win this game.”
The Loons are on a nine-match unbeaten streak with confidence riding high, however. Winger Ethan Finlay thinks the current form that MNUFC is in is a team that SKC haven’t played yet, and that they’ll be surprised when time comes to play.
“We’re finding our form, we’re getting healthy,” he said. “We had some injuries in that September timeframe, had some guys who were missing for other reasons. We’ve been thrown a lot over the last few months but as we’ve gotten healthy, this group has continued to get stronger as we’ve gotten into the playoffs here.
“Anything can happen as we’ve seen from some of the results in the Eastern Conference. We think we can go [to Kansas City] and compete and win, and I know they’re probably bitter about how we beat them down in Orlando late. It’s going to be a great contest.”
And a great contest it will be. Media pundits around the league have been hyping up the match all week, with many expecting it to be one of the most exciting contests of the tournament. In a press conference on Monday, Vermes informed media that he believes his side are the “underdogs,” and Heath believes his side are being written off, too.
The two coaches have been poking fun at each other all season, but this feels like an intimidation tactic if there ever was one. The two teams have earned the rivalry nickname of “the nicest rivalry,” which is a friendly jab at both sides. The “nice” factor between the two sides will change once the whistle blows, however, as both teams know what victory means for their side. A date with the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Western Conference Finals and a shot at competing for MLS Cup.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT Thursday December 3 on FOX.