Minnesota United, TFC square off in battle of underachievers

Minnesota United FC and Toronto FC, two teams that were expecting a lot more out of 2018 than what they’ve produced through the first third of the season, will try to find their respective momentum when they square off on Wednesday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

That statement is especially true of Toronto (4-9-3), the defending MLS Cup champion, who struggled out of the gate this year and have not bounced back. A prime example was Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to the New York Red Bulls that was TFC’s third consecutive home defeat.

What hurt so much about Sunday’s loss and the season as a whole is that the Reds just can’t seem to get out of their own way. The game’s only goal came in the fourth the minute when a skipping shot on the half-volley found its way through a crowd and past goalie Alex Bono.

Toronto had a chance to tie the game and at least get a point out of its miserable performance, but Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made eight saves, including denying Sebastian Giovinco from the penalty spot in the 78th minute.

“Disappointing result,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney said after the loss. “New York had two shots on goal; the one that goes in should never go in. We need something to build on … that didn’t help.

“You could tell with a soft goal and chance missed after chance missed, you start to feel the result again is coming,” he continued. “There are positives out there, but right now we’ve got to turn the positives into a result, so that as a group we feel the building blocks going into place.”

Toronto FC is 1-6-2 in its past nine league matches on the road, allowing 2.2 goals per game.

Meanwhile, the Loons (5-10-1) have lost three straight, including a 1-0 setback at home to FC Dallas on Friday.

Minnesota has been ravaged by attacking-player depth this year and played Saturday played Miguel Ibarra because of a red-card suspension. That prompted coach Adrian Heath to change to a 3-5-2 formation, which is more defensive, from his usual 4-2-3-1 attack.

“I thought it worked,” Minnesota center back Brent Kallman said of the new formation. “The coaches did a good job. We had a good week putting in the plan and executing it on the field. Then we obviously had to go away from it because we were down a goal.”

The Loons had more chances to score than usual but never found the net in a match that was very evenly played across the board.

“It’s the little things that make a difference — I keep going over it and keep talking about it,” Heath said. “Unfortunately, at the moment, we’re not learning the lesson. And football, sometimes you get what you deserve, and sometimes you don’t, and the loss to FC Dallas was one of them that we didn’t. I think the worst that we deserved is a draw out of the game.”

Minnesota has lost five of its past seven MLS matches (1W-1D) and have conceded 2.0 goals per game in the stretch.

Toronto won the lone league meeting with the Loons, 3-2, at BMO Field last May.