Battle of the North Next for Minnesota United

Minnesota United hosts FC Edmonton this weekend in a key NASL match
by Daniel Casey   |   Friday, April 19, 2013

No Diving – column on Minnesota United FC (MNUFC) & the Minneapolis & Minnesota area soccer scene.

It’s snowing outside.

I’m sitting here writing this preview of Minnesota United FC’s second match of the 2013 season and flakes are falling to the ground. It is April 18th and outside my door there are 6 inches of wet snow and there will probably be another day of it ahead.

So it seems more than fitting that this weekend Minnesota United welcomes fellow northern brothers, FC Edmonton, to town.

In a move that lately has seemed like a stroke of genius, Minnesota is playing the majority of its home games for the spring season in the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. Thus, the seemingly never-ending winter this year will have no effect upon the play of soccer.

In 2012, the home opener in the Metrodome drew nearly 9,000. This year’s attendance was less at around 6,700, but bear in mind that last year’s tickets to the home opener were sold at $5 and this year’s tickets were full price. I suspect that Minnesota will draw a comparable crowd for its second home game.

Coming out of a bye week – with 7 teams this first half of the 2013 season, every week one team will have a bye – Minnesota will be looking to earn its first win as will Edmonton.

Against the San Antonio Scorpions 2 weeks ago, Minnesota fought to a goalless draw yet the match was hardly dull. In all honesty, the season opener saw an amazing performance by the crossbar to deny both teams.

Forward winger Simone Bracalello put in a strong performance, not only proving service, but unleashing several woodwork rattling shots. It was also great to see forward Etienne Barbara back in regular play after enduring a rotten luck season last year – contract issues with MLS and then injury sidelined him for most of the campaign. The pair is going to need to step up its game against the Eddies.

Although winless (0-1-1), Edmonton has played very well. Against Ft. Lauderdale, Edmonton proved that it was dangerous even with new faces. In their loss last week to Carolina, the Eddies created the slew of chances only to miss a goal by the slimmest of margins. In 2012, Edmonton scored the fewest goals in the league, but already this year it has taken 19 shots; the flood gates are about to open.

Midfielder Shaun Saiko was surprisingly quiet last week, but he is easily Edmonton’s primary threat, yet he is hardly the sole one. Forward Daryl Fordyce made the NASL’s Team of the Week with his performance against Carolina and will be looking to build on that success with a win. Midfielder Neil Hlavaty spent several years on the other side of the pitch with Minnesota and Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts.

Courtesy Minnesota United FC

Hlavaty will be familiar with the so-called Flyover Cup, a supporters’ trophy between Edmonton’s supporter group and the Minnesota United supporters group, the Dark Clouds. The Flyover Cup always lives in Edmonton, but Minnesota is the current winner.

Perhaps one of the most even match-ups in the league, when Edmonton comes to town the result is usually a deadlock. There have been 4 draws over 4 meetings here in Minnesota and a 0 goal differential (4 goals for and 4 goals against). Something has got to give.

It may be difficult for Minnesota as it will still be without offseason signing Pablo Campos, who is serving the last game of his red card suspension from the final match of last season. Eyes will be on Barbara and Bracalello to capture the first home goal of the season.

But Minnesota has a potent attack as midfield dynamo Miguel Ibarra and his opposite field partner Lucas Rodriguez are always hungry. However, against San Antonio, the midfield gave away a good deal of space centrally. Manager Manny Lagos may look to augment his center-mid pairing of Michael Reed and Aaron Pitchkolan with new signing Bryan Arguez or Kentaro Takada. It will be interesting to see who Lagos taps to start given that nearly all of his personal is fully rested and fit.

Prediction

Minnesota seemed to transition seamlessly between a traditional 4-4-2 and a 4-5-1 in its home opener. Don’t be surprised to also see some sort of 4-3-3 emerge as well, one of the strengths of Minnesota is its adaptability born out of players’ confidence in each other.

While FC Edmonton are a better team this year than last and will do better than many expect over this Spring Session, I can’t see Minnesota United dropping points.

2-1, Minnesota

NEXT UP: April 20 – Minnesota United vs. FC Edmonton, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn. 3:30 p.m. EST, NASL Live Stream.

Daniel CASEY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.
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