Match Preview: MNUFC at Dallas

Last season, games against the Texas teams kept the Loons afloat in their chase for the playoffs. This season, the Loons have already gone to Texas once, and it wasn’t pretty.

This one’s at the slightly odd time of 6pm on Sunday evening, but it’s not a national TV game – it’s on Channel 23 and Bally Sports North locally, so even without cable, if you’re in the Twin Cities, you can see this game. GET THE ANTENNAS! I MEAN ANTENNAE!

Which Combo Unlocks This?

By my count, Minnesota United has used six different starting lineups up front this season, not including the game against Austin FC when they came out in a 4-3-3.

The opening day lineup – from left to right, Franco Fragapane, Luis Amarilla, and Robin Lod – has gotten the most opportunities, with five starts, including the five of the first seven 4-2-3-1 alignments this season. Apart from those five games, though, here’s all the alignments the Loons have attempted:

  • Bongokuhle Hlongwane – Amarilla – Lod
  • Abu Danladi – Amarilla – Lod
  • Hlongwane – Lod – Danladi
  • Hlongwane – Adrien Hunou – Danladi
  • Fragapane – Lod – Danladi

Which is not to say that the lineup has been static, either. Fragapane and Hlongwane have been substituted for each other in almost every game, usually with 20-30 minutes to go; neither has played an entire 90 minutes on the left. Lod has started at center forward twice, but never stayed there for an entire match. Danladi has started on both wings, and also played the number 9 role in both U.S. Open Cup matches.

Things have been tried.

Lod has probably looked the best at center forward and gotten the most chances, although less-than-excellent finishing (see: the first half of Wednesday’s game against the Galaxy) means that the results haven’t been there for him. The other issue is that he’s probably also been the best on the right, which leaves the dilemma of where he should play to make the team better.

Hlongwane offers virtually the only vertical threat on the team, but his finishing hasn’t been any better. Fragapane, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that he’s allowed to attempt to score; every time he has the ball in the opposition penalty area, he seems to be looking to make a square pass.

And so, the search continues. Which combination goes with this lock? What else should they try? Two forwards? Zero forwards? Five defenders and Hlongwane running sprints for 90 minutes?

The hunt is on for goals, and if they don’t figure this out, they’ll need Dayne St. Clair to be even more of a superhero, if they’re going to sniff the playoffs.

The man who has to figure this all out. Courtesy MNUFC

The Endless Assembly Line

For cripes’ sake, Dallas. So. In 2021 you unveil the New American Striker Sensation of the year, Ricardo Pepi, who comes out and scores 13 goals and by the end of the year is the latest person in the endless conga line that is the number 9 jersey for the U.S. Men’s National Team. And you sell this product of your endlessly-praised academy to Augsburg for big ol’ money, $20 million, up there with Miguel Almiron and Alphonso Davies in the history of outgoing MLS transfers.

Traditionally you’re supposed to blow this money on horrible replacements. Instead you just start rolling out Jesus Ferreira – another academy product who got his first FC Dallas start before he could buy a lottery ticket! –  at striker every game, and he’s got nine goals in twelve games. And guess who’s next up in the USMNT conga line? Guess who’s the next guy who’s gonna save the misfiring American front line? NO I DON’T MEAN HAJI WRIGHT.

Where do you get off, huh, FC Dallas? I’m tired of it. Everyone liked you better in the decade or so where your team was stuffed with amazing players and then up front you had somebody who scored like six goals on an xG of 19.1 or whatever. Sigh.

Anyway Ferreira leads the league in goals and goals + assists and non-penalty expected goals. And Dallas’s roster is positively stuffed with 25-and-under guys who are filled with potential, plus Matt Hedges, plus Paul Arriola, who somehow is not 36 years old. It’s sickening, I tell you! They’ll probably win the Western Conference! Gah!

What happened last time?

Last year the Loons got two draws and a win against Dallas, three games that featured a grand total of three goals. The Loons had 6.0 expected goals and scored twice. Dallas never managed more than one xG in a game, and scored once.

Also Emmanuel Reynoso got sent off for stepping on someone’s foot accidentally, a red card that was rescinded approximately four minutes after the game ended because even the league office couldn’t believe what they’d just seen from referee Rubiel Vasquez.

What do the numbers say?

6.6 – Non-penalty expected goals for Jesus Ferreira, tops in the league, according to FBRef.com. Robin Lod is seventh in MLS, with 4.4.

7 – Number of FC Dallas academy players that started at least one game for the U.S. Men’s National Team in World Cup Qualifying (Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon, Ferreira, Weston McKennie, Shaq Moore, Pepi, Chris Richards). At least one of those players started in EVERY SINGLE qualifier.

0.89 – Expected goals more that FC Dallas has tallied than MNUFC this year, according to American Soccer Analysis (16.40 to 15.51). Dallas has scored seven more goals than the Loons this season, 20 to 13.  

1 – Place Dayne St. Clair is invariably in, whenever I try to find a statistic covering player value in MLS this season.

Prediction

The Loons played one good half against Seattle and one really good half against the Galaxy. However, they’re on the road, and they’ve won like ten road games in four years. It feels like the best they can hope for here is a 1-1 draw.

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