Preview: Minnesota United (n).
When? Thursday August 6, 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET and 1 a.m. (7/8) GMT.
Where? ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, FL.
How can I catch the action? ESPN2/ESPN Deportes & the ESPN app for residents of the United States. TVA Sports 2 and TVA Sports App for Canadian residents. Free Sports (Freeview channel 64, and on the app) as well as Sky Sports Football for us U.K. folk. The game is also available via radio locally on 96.9 The game and 810AM ACCION (ESP).
Orlando City head into this match-up with Adrian Heath's Minnesota United off the back of their dramatic, penalty shoot-out, victory over pre-tournament favourites LAFC. Minnesota, on the other hand, cruised to an emphatic 4-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Goals from Robin Lod, Jacari Hayes, Luis Amarilla and Marlon Hairston were enough to see off the Quakes.
It's fair to say that Minnesota will be full of confidence ahead of this tie, following on from that victory. That being said, quarter final aside, it's been a strange tournament so far for Minnesota. The Loons are still unbeaten, having registered a last gasp win over Sporting Kansas City in round 1, before following that win up with draws against Real Salt Lake (0-0), and Colorado Rapids (2-2). They then scraped past Columbus 6-4 on penalties in the round of 16. They've certainly made themselves difficult to beat, without pulling up too many trees so to speak.
In typical Inchy fashion, this Minnesota side are hard to beat. This was again evident during their round of 16 game against Columbus Crew. The Crew had impressed during the group stages, and were fancied by many to go far in this tournament. Minnesota's penalty shoot-out win (1-1 after the 90) showed tremendous composure and resilience. Minnesota are a team that are difficult to break down, they are resolute and well organised. They are a team who are happy to allow the opposition to take possession of the ball.
During their quarter final game Minnesota were happy to let San Jose have the ball as the Earthquakes attempted 528 passes, by comparison to Minnesota's 294 (see figure 1). They also attempted less dribbles and had far less touches. They did however, lead in tackles attempted, clearances, blocks and aerial duels won. Expect Inchy's team to sit off Orlando, and wait for the mistakes to come before pouncing and hitting them on the break. The likes of Ethan Finlay and Robin Lod provide pace in wide areas that allow the Loons to benefit from this type of approach. It's not all that pretty, but it's certainly effective. This is a team that finished 4th in the western conference last season and 7th overall. This will be a difficult game. That's before you even factor in Heath and his history with Orlando City. Particularly at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Figure 1 shows some interesting statistics from Minnesota's (blue + white) game against San Jose (orange).
Much like ourselves, Minnesota are also a team who favour attacking down the right hand side (see figure 2). This might play into Orlando's hands well, as we are well set up to defend that side of the field with Moutinho and the 2 defensive midfielders who can drop in. We still also carry a significant threat with Luis Nani down the left. So it's not as though we'll totally bunker in against that. The likes of Chris Mueller (if fit) and Ruan will also give Minnesota plenty to think about down the opposite flank.
Figure 2 shows an interesting vulnerability. This is a heatmap from the game against San Jose, which shows the positioning of Minnesota's back 4. You'll notice that Chase Gasper doesn't get forward as much as Hassani Dotson. There could be an opportunity to exploit that space down the right for Orlando and peg them back.
There has been something of an update on the fitness of Robin Jansson and Chris Mueller this week. Both left the game against LAFC nursing injuries. The club have yet to disclose specifics of their injuries, though we know from the game footage shown that Mueller has an arm/shoulder injury. The team are hopeful that both will be fit to face Minnesota. Mueller was able to participate in training over the weekend, but was seemingly exempted from weight lifting. Story as per Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel (see below). His inclusion would be a huge boost for the side.
On the other hand, Minnesota are not currently reporting any new injury concerns aside from Opara and Metanire who have both been ruled out. They had been sweating on the fitness of Orlando City hero Kevin Molino ahead of their game with San Jose. Molino was fit enough to take his place on the bench that evening however, so expect him to be involved in some capacity come Thursday evening.
Possible starting XI for Minnesota United
Heath has tinkered with his starting line-up a couple of times so far in this tournament, but I would be surprised to see any changes for this game. The likes of Finlay, Lod and Amarilla all performed well in the last round. And Heath generally prefers a settled spine, so I don't foresee any changes happening to this team. Given how well they played against San Jose, and the fact they'll have had a decent rest period I expect to see an unchanged XI.
As i've previously alluded to, Minnesota prefer to focus their attacks down the right hand side. Largely because of this man. The tricky winger has 14 goals in 56 appearances for the Loons in Major League Soccer. The former Columbus Crew attacker has been capped at international level by USMNT. Finlay has 2 goals and 2 assists on the season so far from 5 games. Expect him to be heavily involved in this game.
Minnesota has unfortunately had the better of this series so far. In 3 games between the 2 sides there have been 2 draws and a victory for Minnesota. The two teams played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at Allianz Field last season. Orlando led courtesy of a Luis Nani penalty, before being denied by both a late equaliser and a late penalty call that was overturned by VAR.
Formation graphic courtesy of buildlineup.com
All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com