Matchday 24 Preview: MNUFC vs. Austin FC

Matchday 24
AppleTV | 1500 ESPN

It has been a difficult 2023 for Minnesota United. After an historically good start the team lost their form and, earning 10 points from their next 13 games, are now stuck below the playoff line in 11th place. After a comprehensive 4-1 win against the Portland Timbers last weekend, though, the Loons look to close out the first “half” of the season with a return to their earlier results. If they have generated some momentum heading into a short, four-game July before the All-Star game (July 19) and the Leagues Cup (July 21-August 19) regular season breaks, a run of games played mostly in front of a home crowd (at home against Austin FC tonight, away against Houston Dynamo mid-week, then back home to face LAFC next weekend), the club will again be a bit unsettled with Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Dayne St. Clair (Canada) still away on international duty, head coach Adrian Heath and Michael Boxall missing tonight’s game, both serving disciplinary suspensions after receiving yellow cards in the Portland game, Bakaye Dibassy and Emanuel Reynoso continuing their integration back into the team, new signings Teemu Pukki and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi finding their way into the team, and the club hoping to add another new player during the summer transfer window. Facing 3 teams ahead of them in a tight Western conference the Loons have a chance, if they can finish well, to quickly make up dropped points and move up in the standings before the break.

After struggling through an early season slump, part returning-to-the-mean after an above expected 2022 season and part missing-their-defense, Austin FC have found their form. With a new sporting director taking charge as an important summer transfer window opens, Austin will be hoping to continue their run of results, undefeated in their last 3, before the regular season break. Back-to-back dismantlings of their Texas rivals — a 3-0 win against FC Dallas on Matchday 20 followed three days later by another 3-0 win against Houston, did wonders for their confidence — although they were only able to muster a 1-1 draw against a pre-Messi Inter Miami last weekend. Still, Austin comes into tonight’s game 5-3-1 in their last 9. In the middle of a three-game stretch of games away from the mid-summer Texas heat, the Verde and Black will be hoping to reverse their poor road performance (2-5-2) and take some much-needed road points.


MIN: 11th in the West, 24 pts, 6-7-6 (home 2-1-5), 1.26ppg, 21g, 25ga (28.3xG, 21.5xGA)

Last five games: WDLDL

Last game: 7/1 MIN 4-1 POR (D Chará 43’ (OG), Reynoso 45’+4’, 77’, Hlongwane 74’)(Boli 60’)

ATX: 8th in the West, 26 pts, 7-8-5 (road 2-5-2), 1.30ppg, 25g, 28ga (23.5xG, 27.3xGA)

Last five games: DWWLL

Last game: 7/1 MIA 1-1 ATX (Martinez 47’)(Lima 51’)

All-time head-to-head: 3-3-0 (MN home 2-0-0)

Last meeting: May 31, 2023 ATX 2-1 MIN (Gallagher 19’, Druissi 82’)(Rosales 26’)

What to watch

MLS roster rules encourage teams to be DP dependent, and in the two games Emanuel Reynoso has started since returning to the club Minnesota has scored 6 goals after averaging less than a goal a game in its first 17 without him. As Reynoso continues to integrate back into the team the question will be whether Minnesota becomes reliant on their DP for all their offense or whether he will be the centerpiece of a coherent attack. With Franco Fragapane and Sang Bin Jeong most likely unavailable on the night, though, the Loons will be playing with a thin front line.

After the off-season departure of Ruben Gabrielsen, early-season injuries to Julio Cascante and Leo Väisänen, and the early departure of replacement loanee Aleksandar Radovanovíc, Austin has been fielding a consistently ad hoc back line. With the return of Cascante and the recent acquisition of young U20 USMNT standout Brandan Craig, though, they may be shoring things up in back, taking some pressure off goalkeeper Brad Stuver. While in attack this season Austin has become incredibly efficient from their width, top 5 in the league in crosses attempted, leading the league with 9 headed goals.

Who to watch

Assistant coach Sean McAuley will be taking charge of the Loons tonight as head coach Adrian Heath is out serving a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Less than a week into the summer transfer window and Minnesota United has been busy. Although not expected to start, newest Loons DP striker Teemu Pukki and winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi should be able to come right into the team: veteran Finnish international Pukki joins Minnesota after a long career playing in Finland, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and England, while Tajouri-Shradi has MLS experience playing with LAFC and NYCFC before a hip injury led him to spend the 2022-23 season with AC Omonia in Cypress.

After scoring in the club’s friendly against FC Kaiserslautern and being unlucky to not get on the board last weekend against Portland, Ménder García looks to be finding his form in front of goal. After a season of working hard with flashes of potential, tonight, with the signing of Pukki, may be his last chance to force his way into the starting XI.

Zarek Valentin had one of his best games as a Loon last weekend against Portland. With DJ Taylor leaving that game early (although it was a precautionary move and Taylor seems fully available), Michael Boxall out serving a yellow card accumulation suspension, and Bakaye Dibassy not yet 100%, the veteran defender will need to have another big game keeping a thin back line calm and under control.

Former Loon Ethan Finlay is having a good run of form for Austin. Securing a spot in the starting XI, he contributed 2 goals and an assist in the team’s last 2 Texas games, making it 3 goals and 3 assists on the season.

On his return from injury, Austin head coach Josh Wolff called Julio Cascante a “warm blanket,” a comforting presence whose return has coincided with Austin’s run of good form. Making 3 Team of the Matchdays in his 11 games back, with 2 goals and 4 assists over that span, his importance to the team both in solidifying the back line and pushing forward is undeniable.

Having played much of the season with a pieced-together back line, Austin has relied on goalkeeper Brad Stuver to come up big. And he has: his 73 saves are 3rd most in the league, while his +5.0PSxG+/-  (post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed) is second best. For comparison, Clint Irwin has a +.7PSxG+/-  and Dayne St. Clair has a -4.5PSxG+/-, worst in the league.




Ryen Jiba (knee)
Robin Lod (knee)
Mikael Marqués (shoulder)

Franco Fragapane (thigh)
Sang Bin Jeong (thigh)
Emmanuel Iwe (thigh)
International Duty: Dayne St. Clair (Canada)

Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica)
Suspended: Michael Boxall (yellow card accumulation)
Adrian Heath (yellow card accumulation)


Out: Žan Kolmanič (right ACL)

Leo Väisänen (right LCL)