Matchday 13 Preview: MNUFC vs. Houston Dynamo FC

Matchday 13
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“We need a break,” head coach Adrian Heath acknowledged after training on Tuesday. “We need to turn this around… At the moment, it’s full reverse. The last five games, haven’t defended well enough and haven’t taken the opportunities when they’ve come.”

Winless in their last 6 regular season games, and in danger, a third of the way in, of letting the season get out of hand, Minnesota United faces the Houston Dynamo tonight at Allianz Field, still in search of their first home win in MLS play. Whatever momentum the team had gained after gutting out an extra-time to penalty kicks win at home against the Philadelphia Union in the US Open Cup was lost in Kansas City over the weekend with a dismal 0-3 defeat. And so, after another quick turnaround, in the 4th of their 8 games in May, the Loons really do need to find a break.

There is a temptation, of course, to imagine that that break arrived when DP playmaker Emanuel Reynoso returned to Minnesota, ending his 4-month absence, especially now that his suspension has been lifted by the league. Not yet offering an explanation for his absence or return, the club simply releasing a statement through social media stating that “Emanuel Reynoso has been cleared to play and can return to full team participation,” it seems that Reynoso is still a week away from the fitness and re-integration into the team necessary to join them in training. In his absence Minnesota has missed the individual quality that gave the team its structural and formal identity. With his return, it is hoped the team may be able to regain the identity that had their offense, in 2021 (Reynoso’s first full season with Minnesota) finishing with 42 goals, 20th in the league, their 54.6xG, 6th best in the league, countered by their worst in the league 28% shooting accuracy. In 2022, after the team had been rebuilt around Reynoso, the Loons finished with 48 goals, 14th best in the league, while their 45.6xG dropped down to 14th best in the league for the season.

After a wildly disappointing 2022, new head coach Ben Olsen is beginning to turn things around in Houston. With the addition of a few key players – most notably Amine Bassi, unavailable on the night, and Ivan Franco – who have immediately complimented the existing roster, and the development of a style that suits the club, the Dynamo are working their way into some very fun soccer. Not yet in the top tier of the Western Conference, their 7th place standing with two games in hand is an unexpectedly good start to the season. But with two key players unavailable tonight serving red card suspensions and two more out with injuries, it will be hard for Houston to reverse their fortunes on the road, where they are winless this year, and against Minnesota, who they haven’t beaten since September 2, 2020.


MIN: 9th in the West, 12 pts., 3-5-3 (home, 0-1-3). Last five: L(W)LD(W)

Last game: May 13, SKC 3 – 0 MIN

HOU: 7th in the West, 14 pts., 4-4-2 (road, 0-3-1). Last five: L(W)D(W)W

Last game: May 13, HOU 0 – 1 SEA

All-time head-to-head: 8-5-4 (6-0-2 at home)

Last meeting: August 27, 2022, MIN 2 – 1 HOU (Picault OG 79’, Amarilla 84’)(Baird 45+1’)

What to watch

After the failure of the 3-5-2 in Kansas City, where the team looked confused and disorganized, Minnesota is set to return tonight to their familiar 4-2-3-1. As Michael Boxall noted after the SKC game, “When we switched back to the 4-2-3-1 [formation] in the second half, that’s our bread and butter, it felt it bit more comfortable in the second half. We started in the 3-5-2, which was the perfect formation against how Philly plays with their front two. But then when you play it against Sporting KC – just how it matches up and the pictures you see are just way different. Obviously with the quick turnaround and not having a full training week that makes things a bit difficult.” Although the offense will need to find its form in the 4-2-3-1, searching for continuity across the pitch, key tonight will be the Loons’ ability to handle an at times very patient Houston team, especially in their build-up. It will be a big night for Minnesota to find its pressing form.

In many ways, Houston’s quality this year has looked like vintage Minnesota, or at least Minnesota at their best, with an offense dominated by an incredibly fluid front five aided by a bit of sneaky width from the outside backs, all founded on stingy defense. Although Minnesota has built its offense out of the counter-attack, Houston is learning to build out of patient possession. Missing Héctor Herrera and Amine Bassi tonight, both serving red card suspensions, Houston may be more reliant on individual talent and the dribbling ability of Adalberto Carrasquilla to generate their offense, but they will present a challenge for Minnesota to keep their shape against a team that likes to build into a quick fluid attack.

Who to watch

“I want to improve on my consistency,” Dayne St. Clair said in a pre-season appearance on Kyndra de St. Aubin’s podcast. “I know there were some games that I was very good last year and there were some games that I know that I could have improved… I want to make sure that I am consistently playing at that level and I know that I have had those big performances and I know that I am capable of it but I also want to continue to have that consistency.” But as Jon Marthaler has pointed out in a great article, St. Clair hasn’t found that consistency. Of course, St. Clair is not solely to blame for the team’s recent defensive struggles, but he needs to get back to the quality he has shown.

So far this season, Michael Boxall has logged 900 minutes of regular season play, and an additional 120 minutes of US Open Cup play. In May alone he has played 300 minutes, with an additional 21 minutes of stoppage time. After a great start to the season, maybe playing his best soccer as a Loon, Boxall has struggled of late. In part, of course, that is due to the team’s general defensive struggles playing in unfamiliar formations, but it also seems that Boxall may need a breather. Tonight will certainly be a challenge for him on short rest.

The future and the present of Minnesota have struggled with inconsistency this year. Playing in a variety of positions and formations, Hassani Dotson and Robin Lod have yet to settle into their form. Even with the return of Reynoso, the team will need Dotson and Lod to be comfortable and consistent to find any kind of success this season. With an expected return to a more traditional formation, tonight is the time for both to begin to settle into their game.

With a set of key absences and playing on short rest, Houston will need to rotate its roster tonight. Key to the game for Houston will be the ability of the rotated roster to finds its continuity. There is no replacing Bassi or Herrera, so the question will be on Griffin Dorsey, Sebastián Ferreira, Nelson Quinones or whoever gets the start tonight to slot into the offense and take the chance that is given them.  

 Adalberto Carrasquilla leads Houston this season with 22 successful dribbles, just under a 53% success rate. He also leads the team in giveaways, with 19. Without Bassi and Herrera, Carrasquilla will have plenty of opportunities for success or turnovers.



Out: Bakaye Dibassy (thigh)

Ryen Jiba (knee)

Mikael Marqués (ankle)


Out: Ifunanyachi Achara (knee)

Teenage Hadebe (leg)

Tate Schmitt (knee)

Questionable: Erik Sviatchenko (lower body)