Fresh off a win-or-go-home match in the U.S. Open Cup, Minnesota United turns its attention toward another crucial game as it continues the MLS playoff push.
FC Dallas comes to Allianz Field a spot behind the Loons in the Western Conference. The Loons are in fourth place, current owners of the final playoff spot. Dallas is fifth, one point behind, though it has played one more game.
The Saturday match is just the latest of Minnesota’s grueling seven-game, 22-day stretch, one littered with must-win matches amid Open Cup play and a playoff surge.
Coach Adrian Heath has used a slew of tactics to combat the grind. Whether it’s resting starters, relying on his depth or managing training times, Heath has been cognizant of what his players need.
“I think Adrian’s done a really good job of trying to manage minutes,” defender Ike Opara said. “It’s not easy, though, because the physical grind and mental grind are both the same. It can be tough going to new climates, turf games, altitude, all that.”
United’s attention turns to Dallas, which is enjoying a resurgent season under Luchi Gonzalez. The first-year coach, who also played one season for the Minnesota Thunder has been successful in leading Dallas into playoff contention thus far.
Dallas employs a unique attack, one Opara said the Loons must be wary of — specifically, not to get mixed up in the “glitz and glamour.” The visiting side will likely pressure the Loons and try to get behind them to strike quickly.
“They take risks, they take chances in their own half,” Opara said. “They look to disorganize you by ball movement. We have to be smart about how we’re going to attack and defend.”
Minnesota United is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning its past six games between MLS and Open Cup matches. Dallas has been more up and down, going 2-1-1 in its past four league games.
Dallas hasn’t played a Major League Soccer match since July 4, but played Club Tijuana to a draw in a friendly on Sunday.
That means the visitors will be rested coming off a week of training and no matches, a far cry from the busy Loons.
While Opara stresses he and the team look at one game at a time, the defender admitted the matches start to blur together — especially if the Loons keep up their winning ways.
“When we look back at what we’ve done well in the past six games, that’s kind of tricky,” Opara said. “I honestly don’t remember what game was what sometimes. I look at it as a general approach. As we move forward, it’s not going to get any easier.”
United, though, is getting used to high-stress games during its run. Matches start to get more chippy than the ones in April and a playoff atmosphere feels inevitable, particularly when two in-conference teams match up against one another.
“We’ve got to make sure we got the right pressure at the right time,” Heath said of Dallas. “Try to force them to play the way we want them. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”