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 takes on Fort Lauderdale tonight at 6:30, in a matchup of a team that's tied for first and a team that's alone in last. Here's David La Vaque's preview of the game. If you're looking to watch tonight, you can do so at the NASL website.
It sounds strange to say, just four games into the year, but Fort Lauderdale already seems like a team with nothing left to lose. With six teams above them in the standings and eight games to go in the spring season, the Strikers may well be adopting more of a role as a spoiler.
United head coach Manny Lagos knows well that this could make the home team even more dangerous in south Florida tonight. "I think we have to be aware that we’re going to play a team that’s going to be hungry to get a result," he said. "We have to make sure from the get-go that we are ready to match and exceed their intensity and their workrate, and from that, play good soccer."
The Strikers, shaky in goal this year, will depend on loanee Jeff Atinella, who was the best keeper in the league last year for Tampa Bay before catching on with Real Salt Lake in MLS this year. On the one hand, you can wonder how effective Atinella will be, given that he's only been with Fort Lauderdale for a couple of days. On the other hand, the same was true of Carolina's Enzo Martinez, and he scored the game-tying goal last week.
The return of the US Open Cup
This year marks the 100th edition of the US Open Cup, a knockout tournament that includes all levels of American soccer. United, being in the second division, enters the tournament in the second round of the competition; MLS teams enter in the third round.
The first round (following, of course, a bunch of qualifying rounds for amateur teams) takes place on Tuesday. Minnesota will face the winner of the first-round match between the Des Moines Menace of the USL Pro Development League, and the Madison 56ers of the National Premier Soccer League - two leagues that are generally considered to be in the fourth tier of American soccer. Minnesota played Des Moines last year in the tournament as well, beating them 2-0 in the second round.
United's first match is Tuesday, May 21, and will be played at home. It's a key match for the team, as the winner moves on to the third round, where they will play an MLS team - and, with the possible exception of the NASL league finals, there's no game that United's players are more excited to play than a game against an MLS team.
You might want to keep Tuesday, May 28 open on your calendar. If United wins, and if they win the coin flip to host in the third round, an MLS team of some kind will be coming to town.
Defender Connor Tobin is set to miss his second straight week of action with an ankle sprain. He's been walking around fairly normally - no walking boot, no limp, but has a ways to go before his ankle is ready for game action.
Midfielder Kentaro Takada has also been bit by the ankle-sprain bug; he turned his ankle on Monday, and didn't make the trip to Fort Lauderdale as a result. Striker Max Griffin also did not travel, as he is still dealing with a hamstring injury suffered in the run-up to the Atlanta game two weeks ago.
Midfielder Bryan Arguez, however, could make his season debut tonight for United. He was on the bench last week against Carolina, though he didn't play, but we could very well see him play tonight.
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