LAFC vs Minnesota United: Preview
It’s time to regroup. Celebrating the Supporter’s Shield was very important and well-deserved but it is not the end goal for LAFC. After snapping a five-game winless streak on Wednesday night with a victory over the Houston Dynamo at Banc of California Stadium, the Black & Gold travel almost 2,000 miles across the country to face Minnesota United FC in their final road trip of the season. It’s time to get back on track for LAFC as they look to avenge their only defeat at home this season inflicted by the Loons just earlier this month.
The top two teams in the West face off in a time of enjoyment for both clubs as Minnesota clinched a playoff spot with a midweek win over Sporting KC and LAFC clinched the aforementioned Supporter’s Shield with their win over Houston. In what could potentially be a Western Conference finals preview, I expect LAFC and Minnesota to take this match very seriously regardless of their recent accomplishments. With just two games remaining in the regular season, both sides still have plenty to play for. LAFC will want to prove that the win over Houston was not a coincidental one while sharpening up their play in preparation for the postseason. On the other hand, Minnesota will look to give their supporters a token of appreciation with a victory over the league leaders that would increase their chances of obtaining home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
When playing visitors, LAFC have been one of the best teams in MLS this season. The Black & Gold have collected points on the road in 13 of the 16 matches they have played away from the Banc and have not lost a game in opposing territory since July. However, visiting Allianz Field for the first time and coming out with unscathed will be something LAFC will have to work for. Just how LAFC have built a fortress at the Banc, the Loons have also made a stronghold out their new stadium with only one loss all season. In addition, Minnesota are currently on a 9-game unbeaten streak at home and with their fans behind them in full support, will be in search of rewarding them with a victory in the final regular-season home game at Allianz Field before the playoffs begin.
We all remember how the most recent meeting between these two teams went with LAFC basically dominating every statistical category except in goals. Whether it was Minnesota’s excellent defending, LAFC’s lack of ideas or Carlos Vela’s absence in that match, the fact of the matter is that the Black & Gold were unable to unlock a defense that lives by the “rolling up your sleeves, by any means necessary” attitude. The Loons are a club that spends most of their time defending in their own half but are somehow one of the teams with the fewest goals conceded in the league. The addition of experienced defender Ike Opara to the backline has certainly been a major factor in the improvement on defense for Minnesota. Opara anchors the backline while preventing teams like LAFC from attacking through the middle of the field. The former Defender of the Year keeps his backline organized and maintains excellent communication with his midfielders and will look to give his goalkeeper Vito Manone his 12th clean sheet of the season.
Bob Bradley has a winning mentality but also a philosophy on how to win football games. As opposed to his counterpart Adrian Heath, Bradley is a coach that wants his team to play free-flowing football and the players to show their quality on the pitch. In order for that to happen on Sunday, Bradley must field a full-strength squad despite already reaching his regular season objectives. Although LAFC are currently riding a four-game unbeaten streak, only one of those matches has been a victory. With Minnesota being very good at defending the middle of the park, the tactic used by Bradley against Houston of attacking through the wings with his outside backs may well have been a rehearsal for this particular game. Given that the Black & Gold have a couple of weeks off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, I expect Bradley to send out his strongest starting XI for the last two remaining games.