For the first time this year, midweek MLS action comes to Minnesota, as the Loons are entering an extremely busy period. It’ll be six games in 20 days for Minnesota, as MNUFC careens through a U.S. Open Cup-filled stretch before the June international break. This one is the first game of the season between the LA Galaxy and Minnesota, 7pm on Bally Sports North.
Crisis Becomes Them
Since a four-game undefeated run to begin the year, the Loons have lost five of seven, including their last three MLS matches. Those last three include a beating at the hands of LAFC, a beating at the hands of Seattle, and an ugly home loss to FC Cincinnati. That fast start to the season is now a distant memory.
According to American Soccer Analysis, Minnesota has conceded nearly seven expected goals in that three-game stretch, while creating barely three xG. The Loons are down to the fourth-worst team in the league in expected goal difference. If it wasn’t for Dayne St. Clair, they might be plumbing the depths of the standings; as it is, even with St. Clair’s heroics, they’re still in ninth.
Other than St. Clair, I can find no numbers that point to a coming turnaround, either. Minnesota’s offense isn’t creating goals, but they’re not unlucky or having trouble finishing, like they have been in the past. The MNUFC defense hasn’t conceded much, but that’s not because the back line is buttoning things up; the Loons are fifth-worst in the league in shots on target allowed.
But at the same time, this is a team that’s been counted out before. In 2020, they lost their first three games of the “regular” season (post-MLS is Back Tournament). In 2021, they lost their first four games, then went through multiple scoring droughts during the season. Both times, they came back and made it into the playoffs. The 2020 playoff run might have been Emanuel Reynoso-driven, but last year’s swoons felt a lot like this season’s, and Minnesota overcame them all.
The Loons are trying some things. Sunday’s loss to Seattle was the fourth consecutive game with a different alignment up front, and I’d be somewhat surprised if we didn’t see a fifth game added onto that run. Minnesota’s still searching for that spark, that alignment where the strengths compensate for the weaknesses. Tonight’s game is another chance to make that work.
Meet (Another) Team That Can’t Score
The Galaxy have scored either one or zero goals in each of their last five games. Not coincidentally, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández hasn’t scored in five games, after tallying five times in the first six games of the year.
Honestly, there may be a lot of similarities between the Galaxy and the Loons. Both teams are having trouble scoring and creating chances. Both teams seem hamstrung by designated-player signings that seem troublesome, in retrospect – for the Galaxy, that’s Douglas Costa and Kevin Cabral. Costa has two goals this year, Cabral has none, and both have played more than 600 minutes. Would it be insulting, and to whom, to note that this is also the number of goals that Luis Amarilla and Adrien Hunou have scored in MLS this season?
What do the Numbers Say?
113 – Number of minutes Chase Gasper has played for the Galaxy this season, including one start and one appearance off the bench. Should he play tonight, he’ll no doubt be warmly applauded.
6.31 – Number of goals below expected conceded by Dayne St. Clair this season, according to American Soccer Analysis. This is far and away the best number in the league, in fact better than the next best two keepers put together.
5 – Number of penalties faced in MLS play by St. Clair in his career. Raul Ruidíaz’s score on Sunday was the first time that St. Clair allowed a goal on a penalty kick.
18% – Opposing shooting percentage against Minnesota this year (goals divided by shots on target), the lowest number in the league.
What Happened Last Time?
Pure insanity! The Loons faced a trip to Los Angeles on the last day of the season in 2021, knowing that a win or a draw would be enough to put them into the playoffs, while a loss would mean they’d require help (which, in the event, did not come.)
Adrien Hunou and Robin Lod scored in the first 34 minutes, but a goal from Sebastian Lletget just before halftime, and one from Chicharito six minutes after halftime, leveled the scores. The Loons went ahead on a Julian Araujo own goal; Chicharito leveled it again with a quarter-hour to go.
Then, right about the time Damir Kreilach was scoring for Real Salt Lake to put RSL ahead of the Galaxy and into the playoffs, Franco Fragapane missed a penalty for MNUFC that would have sealed the Loons’ playoff place. And so things went from both the Loons and Galaxy stumbling into the playoffs with a draw, to suddenly the Galaxy needing a desperation goal to put themselves in and knock Minnesota out.
The Loons survived, in case you didn’t remember, and the game ended 3-3.
0-0 would be the smartest prediction, with both teams struggling for goals, but this is MLS. I’ll say this one ends in a 2-2 draw and both teams score an own goal.