They say good things come in threes, but ask any Minnesota United FC fan that and they will tell you that three 1-1 draws against Vancouver, Nogomenti Klub and New England is no good thing.
Real Salt Lake also have three draws on the bounce too, with a 1-1 at San Jose, the 3-3 thriller at Portland and another 1-1 at Vancouver. Against Portland, Minnesota again drew but this time with a 2-2 result on the Sunday game. RSL have one win in preseason with the opening game against NYRB finishing 1-0 thanks to Jordan Allen, so that's 1 win out of 8 combined games for these two teams. With all these stalemates fans from both teams must be feeling like another draw is inevitable when Real Salt Lake take on Minnesota at Providence Park on Wednesday, February 15th.
Something to Prove
Just like any expansion team, I expect Minnesota will approach this game like there are points on the line. This is a squad that will have a huge chip on their shoulder coming into the league. Their expansion brother in Atlanta has certainly been the flashier of the two and MNUFC will want to show that their work ethic is has more value than big money signings. After being unceremoniously axed at Orlando, Minnesota coach Adrian Heath will want to make this second chance in MLS count and won't be settling for another situation like that in Orlando. Then you have guys like Kevin Molino, Bashkim Kadrii and Johan Venegas who will be out there trying to prove that they not only belong in MLS but that they belong in the playoffs and you've suddenly got a club with attitude.
By the way, here's where those three are in terms of chemistry...
Heath is on record as wanting attack minded tactics, making the most of aggressive play and particularly set pieces. MNUFC will be well drilled on set pieces. He's a big fan of the strong target man up top which saw Cyle Larin morph into the juggernaut he is today while encouraging midfielders to run in on the attack. He also likes possession football, strangling the opponents chances by limiting their ball time. Expect MNUFC to open with high pressure football, keeping the ball out of their third and moving it around with urgency. They want that first win and after four draws they will be throwing caution into the wind to get it.
The Frustration Game
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Real Salt Lake start well but go down thanks to an error and then save themselves with a goal of the week candidate. Firstly, it was Omar Holness with his long range strike to salvage the 3-3 draw in Portland. Then on Sunday, Jordan Allen showed once again why he should be in that starting 11 with this beauty...
Look, I'm never going to complain about the quality of goals from Real Salt Lake. We have 4 attackers in either the prime or coming into the prime of their careers and who are synchronising better with each game. But the real story here is the continuation of our leaky defence. When Jeff Cassar made the switch from the legendary Diamond to the 4-3-3 we conceded goals like we never had before and failed to qualify for the postseason in 2015. Now, we are lining up in a 4-2-3-1 and we are still letting far to many goals in. Cassar will be looking to stop these goals getting through as soon as possible as the general consensus is he is on borrowed time right now. He's entering his fourth season as head coach, and if he can't justify his dramatic changes to the squad with success then he may not last to the fifth.
Much like Minnesota, RSL have adopted a high pressure style in the preseason. Opting for counter attacking play and a high defensive line has been a key part of the tactics in all games as Allen's goal shows. Plata plays that pass over seven Whitecaps players and that quick turnover play is working for the attackers. The problem with playing counter attacking football when your defence is struggling is that it won't always come off like you want it to. With Cassar looking for full backs to overlap (which is why Dunk is being hailed as a coveted capture by RSL brass) there has to be more asked from our centre backs and even from defensive midfielders.
On the day
If I was any good at predicting the future I would have remembered to pick up some extra medicine before leaving for Warsaw so that I didn't have to search for the all-night pharmacy at 2am (is that the worlds smallest violin I hear...) however when it comes to soccer there's only so many ways it can go. It's win, lose or draw and right now my gut is telling me that MNUFC might force their own downfall here. Their aggressive attacking play will fit nicely into RSL trying to force a turn over and the proficiency Salt Lake have developed in making the most of those counter attacking chances means that RSL may have the key to unlock that Minnesota defence more than once.