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Hottest teams in MLS face off: Minnesota United vs. Austin FC

The fourth-place Loons are 10 points behind second-place Austin

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Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath watches the action in the first half of a MLS game at Allianz Field on May 28, 2022. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL — Saturday night’s match at Allianz Field pits two of the hottest and best teams in MLS, but for Minnesota United, it’s less about catching Austin FC and more about creating separation from the clubs beneath them in the Western Conference standings.

Going into the 7 p.m. kickoff in St. Paul, the fourth-place Loons (11-9-5) are 10 points behind second-place Austin (14-5-6) with nine regular-season games left, but Minnesota is only five points from being outside of the MLS Cup Playoff field.

“It’s like (Austin) are playing with house money a little bit; the consequence of a defeat for them at this moment are not huge,” Loons manager Adrian Heath said Friday. “For that group below, every point is so important. We have to be aware that (Saturday), they are going to come and take the game to us.”

The Loons’ defense has been leaky lately, allowing four goals to Portland Timbers in a 4-4 draw on July 30 and four goals in a 4-3 loss to Colorado Rapids on Aug. 8 before conceding only one in a 2-1 win over Nashville last Sunday.

Austin is tied for the league lead with 54 goals, and Sebastian Driussi has scored an MLS-best 17 goals.

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“They play on the front foot,” Heath explained. “… They are playing with so much confidence, and there is nothing like that for players. They are winning games and scoring goals. They are winning games from seemingly impossible positions, and they’ve kept going.”

The Loons’ back line appears likely to undergo a change, with left back Kemar Lawrence missing training this week with a knee ligament strain.

“It’s not too bad, but it can linger,” Heath said. “If (on Saturday) he doesn’t feel 100 percent, he won’t play.”

MORE MINNESOTA LOONS COVERAGE:
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Fragapane is on a team-friendly guaranteed compensation of $257,000, per MLSPA, and has been one of the most productive Loons over his two seasons.
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MNUFC went into Saturday’s match in California with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help. That assistance came with Real Salt Lake’s draw with L.A. Galaxy late Saturday night, but Minnesota didn’t do its part of the equation.
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Without him, the Loons are clinging to one of the final playoff spots with two games remaining.
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With Minnesota’s playoff positioning slipping in three straight scoreless losses, a goal and a point will be precious. But they lost points from a winning position at home.
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After a slow start, the Loons ascended to be one of the league’s best through late August, netting 26 out of the next 33 points during that stretch.
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Reynoso, who has a team-high 10 goals, tweaked his right ankle before halftime of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to FC Dallas.
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Third-place Minnesota (13-9-5) travels to sixth-place Real Salt Lake (10-8-9) for an 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
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Matt Navratil, a 26-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota, is a diehard Loons fan and a season-ticket holder who travels with his parents, Scott and Chris, to a few road games each season.
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The Loons dealt with a steady stream of pressure, but made the most of their few opportunities to take all three points on the road.
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One of Dayne St. Clair’s first soccer memories is from roughly 20 years ago with him juggling a plastic balloon at his grandmother’s home in the Toronto area. The young Canadian wasn’t yet good enough with his feet to keep a heavier soccer ball aloft; he needed an inflatable orb that would hang in the air a bit longer.

Oniel Fisher and DJ Taylor are two options to step in.

With an abundance of midfield players healthy and available to play — Robin Lod, Kervin Arriaga, Wil Trapp, Joseph Rosales and Jonathan Gonzalez — multiple players will be left out of the starting XI.

“It’s strange, a few weeks ago we had two midfield players fit and now we have four or five who are waiting for a chance,” Heath said. “… When we announce the team there will be two or three unhappy people, but fortunately that is the way it is.”

New Designated Player attacker Mender Garcia will be available to come off the bench for his MLS debut on Saturday. Heath has raved about the 23-year-old Colombian’s speed.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA UNITED FC
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