By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell
FCC (1) – (3) MIN (PKs)
Before the World Cup break, Minnesota United FC began their hunt for the US Open Cup trophy on June 6 in Cincinnati. The Loons played a refreshingly boring, albeit endless, game against USL side FC Cincinnati, with two extra 15 minute periods and, finally, four rounds of penalty kicks to decide who would go to the round of 16. The eternal defensive back-and-forth proved that Cinci will be a staunch opponent when the club enters MLS play next season. It also proved that Minnesota has work to do.
Minnesota maintained possession, with 66 percent overall, but struggled to do much with it. While Christian Ramirez (aka “Martinez” this night, thanks to FCC’s commentary team) had chances, the Loons managed just 15 shots to FCC’s 10. We also saw more of Maximiniano than we’ve seen all season and the mid, who was also given an alias – “Maximino” – somehow managed to stay in the ref’s good graces for much of the match.
Ramirez set the tone for the Loons, shooting and scoring first. He was followed by Collin Martin and Brent Kallman, who both scored, and finally Collen Warner, whose shot was blocked. But it was keeper Bobby Shuttleworth (again) who secured the result, standing tall during the shootout, blocking all but one FCC shot, including Nazmi Albadawi’s which cancelled out Warner’s miss.
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) June 7, 2018
MN United’s appearance in Houston on Monday night will mark the first time the club has made it to the fifth round in their USOC history, including the NASL eras when the club joined the Hunt as the Thunder (1999 – 2009) the Stars (2010 – ‘12) and United (2013 – ‘16). Both this progress and the opponent will be a refreshing change.
Many supporters expected the United to draw Sporting Kansas City in the first regional group match, the club which sent the Loons home in 2014, ‘16 and ‘17 (and 2009 if you count the Thunder v. Wiz match, which most of us do). The Minnesota soccer community breathed a sigh of relief at the Houston Dynamo matchup, but, unfortunately for United, the Dynamo – who have a USOC history of their own with SKC – view the fifth round match as a stepping stone to their next league appearance, against none other than Kansas City.
Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera was quoted in a recent news release saying, “It’s going to help us prepare for what is coming against Sporting Kansas City… We want to win at home and we have to win at home, so it’s a very important game for us.”
It is no less important for United, whose three-year transition plan cited Open Cup success in addition to a playoff berth. It is also important for the fans, whose morale and confidence in the team, coaching staff and back office, have wavered with recent poor results.
The Loons need to present a solid defense on Monday night against a hungry squad of bench players looking to prove their worth in the Dynamo lineup. They also need to find a way to connect their midfield movement to both the attacking and defending thirds, making the most of every possession and counter-attack, and – hopefully – finding the back of the net.
Turnovers and poor communication have been United’s downfall all season. If the midfield can get it together, they have a chance in Houston. Instead of being victimized by the Law of Averages, they need to leverage it: Keep the ball, move the ball, shoot the ball.
Featured image: @MNUFC
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