Group D primer: What to know about MNUFC’s tournament opponents
In case you haven’t heard, Major League Soccer is back.
Minnesota United FC will resume play in the “MLS is Back” tournament, which begins July 8 in Orlando, Fla., and is serving as the league’s call back to action after the 2020 season was paused in March due to the coronavirus.
The tournament will launch with a group stage, similar to what you’d see at the World Cup. MLS assigned 26 teams to six different groups. Every team will play three matches in its respective group. The top two squads of each group and the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage.
The Loons were placed in Group D, which features three other Western Conference teams – Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids.
Here’s everything you need to know:
2019 record: 12-16-6 (42 points; 9th place)
2019 record vs. MNUFC: 1-1
Playoff result: N/A
Skinny: A slow start cost head coach Anthony Hudson his job early last season, but the Rapids rallied to finish just six points out of a playoff spot in 2019. Colorado, which has missed the postseason three seasons in a row, was committed to getting younger. The Rapids were finally able to sign Younes Namli, a 25-year-old midfielder they’ve coveted for two years. Colorado also brought in 19-year-old Braian Galvan to contribute on the Rapids’ versatile group of attackers.
Minnesota United FC
2019 record: 15-11-8 (53 points; 4th place)
Playoff result: Lost first round
Skinny: Minnesota United cracked the MLS playoff bracket for the first time in 2019, thanks to an eight-game winning streak towards the end of the season. Vito Mannone, who was named the 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year, led the league with a 1.26 GAA and posted 11 shutouts. Darwin Quintero, the first designated player in MNUFC history, registered a team-high 10 goals and 27 shots. However, both players departed in the offseason. Mannone declined MNUFC’s offer to make him the highest-paid goalkeeper in MLS, and Quintero was traded to Houston for midfielder Marlon Hairston and $600,000 in allocation money. The Loons replaced Mannone with Tyler Miller, a 27-year-old keeper who posted 19 shutouts for LAFC from 2018-19. The biggest question surrounding the team is if its offense can keep up with the top-scoring MLS squads, but MNUFC should still be considered a favorite to advance past Group D.
Real Salt Lake
2019 record: 16-13-5 (53 points; 3rd place)
2019 record vs. MNUFC: 0-1-1
Playoff result: Lost conference semifinals
Skinny: The 2020 season will be a new era for Real Salt Lake. Nick Rimando, the first MLS goalkeeper to reach 200 career wins, retired in the offseason after he spent the final 13 years of his 19-year career with RSL. That’s a big hole to fill for a defensive-minded team. Real Salt Lake finished second-to-last in the West last season with 46 goals scored. Having a different keeper in net other than Rimando could expose RSL’s lack of an explosive scorer.
Sporting Kansas City
2019 record: 10-16-8 (38 points; 11th place)
2019 record vs. MNUFC: 1-2
Playoff result: N/A
Skinny: Once a powerhouse in MLS — the franchise made eight straight playoff appearances from 2011-18 – SKC’s core is aging. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi as well as keeper Tim Melia are in their mid-30s. Melia allowed a career-worst 60 goals last season, as Sporting Kansas City yielded the second-most goals in the league (67). SKC did bring in Alan Pulido to provide a spark on offense, and he should be able to open things up for forwards Khiry Shelton and Johnny Russell. If Melia, the 2017 Goalkeeper of the Year, can find his old form, Sporting KC could surprise some people in Group D.