Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.

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United prepares for "biggest game this year" Saturday against New York

Posted by: Jon Marthaler under Soccer Updated: October 4, 2013 - 12:32 PM

If for no other reason than nostalgia, Minnesota's game Saturday against the New York Cosmos was always going to be one of the biggest games of the fall. It's something that Michael Rand played up in his (video included) interview with Manny Lagos that ran in today's paper; the Cosmos drove the original incarnation of the NASL, which was the league that got a certain generation of players and fans interested in the game of soccer.

Even if you could ignore that Kicks-Cosmos history, though, Saturday's game would still be perhaps the biggest game of the year for United. New York is in first place and Minnesota is tied for second, making it another must-win for United. Throw in the atmosphere at the National Sports Center, where the combination of cold and dark in the fall always makes games feel somehow more important, and even Lagos - who likes to have his team in a one-game-at-a-time mentality - couldn't deny the game's importance.

"If you’re talking about competitively, I think it’s the biggest game this year," he said. "If you’re talking about a game that’s both competitively important, and that nostalgically connects some of the dots about a great legacy of soccer here in Minnesota and an amazing Cosmos legacy that is trying to reinvigorate itself, I think yes, from that standpoint it’s an exciting weekend."

It was just three weeks ago that the two teams last met, with the Cosmos winning 1-0 in New York. Sebastien Guenzatti scored the game's only goal, less than fifteen minutes from the end of the match, and though Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman was sent off three minutes later, United couldn't find a way through to tie the match.

For Lagos, three weeks seems far in the distant past. "It feels like a long time ago because we’ve had a couple of big games in between that we’ve done well," he said. "We’ve had a good record of late, we’re 3-1-1 in our last five games and our only loss was to the Cosmos. I think there are some things that we could have done better in New York, there are some things that made that result a little bit harsh for us because I thought we played pretty well."

Minnesota has won twice since that loss, but so has New York, with a 2-0 away win at Fort Lauderdale, and a 4-3 win at home against Tampa Bay, in a game the Cosmos trailed 3-1 at halftime. New York has thus won three in a row, and hasn't lost since mid-August; they should be flying tomorrow night, and Lagos has to prepare his team to deal with that.

"The big thing for us looking at them, and particularly [looking at] the energy they have coming off a comeback win at home, is to make sure that we possess the ball in good spots on the field," said United's coach. "They tend to pressure high on the field, and we have to make sure that we deal with that the right way, in that sometimes we have to play out of it through possession to get our chances, and sometimes we have to be compact defensively and win second balls and go from there. I think the big thing for us is to make sure that we’re organized and keep our shape defensively, and when we go forward, we do it with the energy required to make them feel the stress."

That defensive presence is something Minnesota has done particularly well, as of late. United kept its first clean sheet since the spring season's second game last week, and hasn't given up more than one goal in a game for a month. Set pieces, which were for so long the defense's Achilles heel, have stopped being a problem; it would appear that the defense is coming together.

Speaking about last week's win against San Antonio, Lagos said, "I thought defensively once again we were very good; they had a few chances, but they weren’t consistent chances where there were waves of attacks. For the last month I’ve been really pleased with how we’re playing defensively. It also was an example of us not playing our best game at home, but getting a result - and making sure guys worked on that part of the game was massively important, because we have played better at home and haven’t got the results. That learning curve, and guys continuing to grow and get better and see a game out, is important."

For the moment, at least, the momentum is with Minnesota. If United can slow the hot streak that the Cosmos is on, then this weekend could not only make us all reminisce about big Kicks wins over the Cosmos in the 1970s - but also make us think about the possibility for another Soccer Bowl appearance for the current squad.

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Buffalo 10
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St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
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Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
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Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
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Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
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Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
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Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
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(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
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SMU
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Rutgers
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(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
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UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
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Washington
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Southern Miss
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(13) So Carolina
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Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
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Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
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Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
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San Jose St
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35

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