Wed. Jun 7th, 2023

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Minnesota United coaches and players weren’t hiding their smiles during Tuesday’s training session at the National Sports Center in Blaine. And why should they?

The Loons are still undefeated after five matches and currently tied with LAFC for the third best record in the Western Conference.

“The training this morning is as good as we’ve ever had,” said head coach Adrian Heath. “I’m really delighted with the group at the moment.”

Defensively, the group has shown some serious quality early in the campaign, allowing just three goals so far and earning two clean sheets on the road. The most notable performance came Saturday in the 1-0 win over St. Louis.

Coming in with 15 goals in their first handful of matches, the hosts managed just three shots on target against Minnesota and mustered less than one expected goal. Early Golden Boot contender Joao Klauss was a non-factor.

“The guys [defensively] have worked really hard,” said Heath. “They are getting the rewards for the hard work they’ve put in.”

While MNUFC’s next opponents, the Chicago Fire, haven’t exactly been playoff contenders in recent years, they will present another challenge to this battle-tested defensive unit.

Prior to this past weekend’s 0-0 draw with former Loon Tyler Miller and DC United, the Fire had scored three goals in consecutive matches against Cincinnati and Inter Miami, and that’s been mostly without star forward Xherdan Shaqiri, who’s been battling a leg injury.

Ahead of the 2022 season, Shaqiri signed the most expensive contract in Chicago Fire history, as the MLS side was able to pull him away from Ligue One’s Lyon. Previously, the Swiss National has played across Europe, most notably for Liverpool during their Premier League championship run in 2020.

In Shaqiri’s absence, 19-year old Brian Gutierrez has filled in and provided a much-needed spark to Chicago’s front line.

“[Gutierrez] looks a really good soccer player,” said Heath. “Very sharp mind, gets in good little pockets in behind the midfield. So, it’s something that we’ll talk about later in the week.”

If last week’s status update on Shaqiri is any indication, where he was reportedly nearly ready to return against DC before ultimately opting for another week of recovery, Minnesota may be facing a revamped Chicago attack with the returning star and the quality youngster both in the lineup.

So, how do the Loons keep up the defensive quality and neutralize what could be a dangerous road opponent up front?

“Obviously, [Shaqiri] is what most of the attack will run through because of his quality,” said MNUFC captain Wil Trapp. “When you have guys like that on the field that only want to oftentimes go one way, we have to find ways to exploit him defensively and really try to move them into positions where we create doubt.”

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The Loons Daily newsletter is written by Jeremy Rushing and presented by Sota Soccer, your home for soccer coverage in the North! If you could, please consider supporting our work at

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