Restless fan bases unhappy with their English head coaches. Front offices that promised playoffs, but fell short of that goal. Questionable roster decisions and under-performing defenses. While the Colorado Rapids and Minnesota United FC aren’t quite mirror images of each other, similarities abound between the two teams, set to face off this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Earlier this week, Pro Soccer USA’s Minnesota United correspondent Kyle Eliason spoke with Colorado correspondent Marco Cummings on Mile High Sports Radio in Denver (AM 1340|FM 104.7) to give his perspective on the match.
Colorado won the last meeting between these teams back in June, how do you see this one playing out?
Eliason: It’s hard to say how the Loons are going to respond to officially missing out on the playoffs after the loss to Philly. Adrian Heath’s postgame comments were fairly pointed and questioned whether certain players would be back with the team in 2019. I guess it depends whether that is something that will motivate players or if it will cause the team to pack in for the final three games of the season.
What is the pulse on the MNUFC fan base? It seems like they are unhappy with Heath at the moment.
Eliason: I think there are a lot of factors in play. The season-ending injuries to Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay didn’t help things. There’s a lot of optimism around the club with Allianz Field set to open next season. But there’s no getting around it: a goal was set this season to challenge for a playoff place this season and a lot of fans wanted to see improvement from the 2017 debut season in MLS. Right now the Loons are sitting on 36 points, which is what they finished last season with. They’ll probably make some marginal improvement on that, but it’s not the step forward that fans have wanted.
What will we see from Minnesota United in the remaining games? Will we see some depth players get more minutes?
Eliason: While this most recent defeat mathematically eliminated the Loons from the playoffs, realistically they were out of it long before that. Heath stressed his intention to pick up as many points as possible. I believe he’s going to play as strong of a lineup as he can.
Do you see the front office moving in a different direction from Adrian Heath?
Eliason: I do not believe they’ll make any [coaching] changes. MNUFC CEO Chris Wright was quoted in the Star Tribune giving Adrian Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos passing grades, but also added that they weren’t looking for excuses in 2019. But if the team has a poor showing when the new stadium opens, that might not go over so well.
What is missing there? What will it take to succeed?
Eliason: I think Adrian Heath is very good at putting together a potent attack. Along with Darwin Quintero, Miguel Ibarra has quietly had a strong season (seven goals, seven assists). But Minnesota’s defense has been poor for a second-straight season. The question is whether Heath can put together a defense solid enough to win games. Part of that has to do with the midfield. Sam Cronin suffered a concussion towards the end of last season, and he hasn’t played a minute in 2018. They recently picked up Fernando Bob and at times, he’s shielded the backline. But it remains to be seen if he’ll be back. It’s about protecting the back three or back four. But Minnesota’s problem is they don’t pose much of a challenge in terms of keeping opposing teams out of the back of the net.
Any changes in your grade of the Sam Nicholson-Eric Miller trade earlier this year?
Eliason: That’s a move that’s come back to bite Minnesota a bit, because of the injuries in the attacking midfield. At the time, they thought they were dealing from a position of strength. Other than Miguel Ibarra on the right side, they haven’t really found a suitable replacement. Miller has been a solid add and a reliable defensive right back. Lord knows Minnesota needs the extra help on defense. But they haven’t found an answer at left wing, either. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the Loons.
What are your predictions for Saturday’s match?
Eliason: I certainly wouldn’t count on a Loons clean sheet, but their home form has been much better than away. I predict a 2-1 Loons win.