The Vancouver Whitecaps and Minnesota United FC will battle on the pitch for the first time when the two sides meet Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
And there’s plenty at stake as MLS heads toward the second half of its schedule. The Whitecaps (6-6-2, 20 points) sit sixth in the Western Conference, three points ahead of ninth-place Minnesota (5-9-2, 17 points) with two games in hand.
But the Loons, who began play in the MLS this season, have been a different team at home. Minnesota has posted all five of its victories on its own pitch, including impressive wins over Sporting Kansas City, Orlando City SC and most recently a 3-2 victory over the Portland Timbers on Wednesday that snapped a three-match losing streak.
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“We’ve shown in the last few weeks that playing at home we’re a different proposition,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “Certainly our performances on the road the last two or three weeks has not been not good enough, individually or collectively.
“The match Saturday is huge for us and then we go away — and then we’re at home for virtually five or six weeks. This upcoming stretch for us is going to be sort of pivotal for where this season goes.”
Minnesota has been the worst defensive team in the MLS this season, surrendering a league-high 36 goals — an average of more than two per game. The opportunity for scoring chances is good news for a Vancouver attack that mustered just two shots on target in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home against FC Dallas.
“It’s going to be a new environment for us,” Vancouver coach Carl Robinson said. “If we can compete like we did (last weekend) and maybe be a little bit tidier in the final third, then we’ll get our chances.”
After four straight MLS matches at home, the Whitecaps are on the road (where they’ve complied a 2-4-0 record) for three of their next four matches.
After the game at Minnesota, Vancouver will head to resurgent Chicago next week and return home to face New York City FC on July 5 before MLS breaks for the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup from July 7-17. Then a trip to Los Angeles is in the offing on July 19.
“It’s important now — the next three games especially — that we just keep our heads down and we try and fight and scrap for everything we can,” Robinson said. “And hopefully we can come out of that break a little bit more healthy.”
With just 50 shots on target, the Whitecaps FC has the second fewest in the league. Vancouver has the lowest shooting accuracy in the league, with just 29.2 percent of its shots finding the target.
Of the Whitecaps’ 19 goals, eight have come on set pieces — including the equalizer against Dallas — a rate of 42 percent that leads MLS.
“We’ve worked hard on set pieces this year because we were very low in the last two seasons,” Robinson said. “It’s been a big factor for us (this year). Can we tidy up in other areas? Yeah, of course we can.”
Abu Danladi will miss this match for Minnesota United because of a red card suspension. He was sent off Wednesday against Portland for violent conduct after a tackle with the Timbers’ Sebastian Blanco.