Match Preview: MNUFC @ Orlando City SC

MNUFC takes undefeated record on the road with an Eastern Conference foray

Minnesota United FC returns to the road on Saturday night for a second consecutive cross-conference meeting, this time against Orlando City SC. While the Loons continue to find their footing and cement a new identity, the Lions are working overtime, putting up strong results in Concacaf Champions Cup (CCC) play while failing to find the net in their first two MLS matches. Despite their underwhelming start to the MLS season, Óscar Pareja’s side boasts plenty of star power (as Ben Miller of The Mane Land told us this week) with proven scoring records that the Loons will have to temper tonight.

Form (W-L-D)

MIN: 5th in West (4 pts), 1-0-1, GD +1. Last 2: W-D

ORL: 12th in East (1 pt), 0-1-1, GD -5. Last 5 (including CCC): W-D-W-L-D

Side-by-side comparison of MNUFC and OCSC 2024 stats in league play. (Image courtesy: MN United FC)

Series – MNUFC (W-L-D)

Overall: 2-1-1 (5 GF, 4 GA)

Home: 1-1-1 (3 GF, 3 GA)

Away: 1-0-0 (2 GF, 1 GA)


MIN: Out: F. Fragapane (thigh), E. Reynoso (knee); Questionable: None

ORL: Out: None; Questionable: J. Lynn (right lower leg), F. Torres (right upper extremity)

Training Insights – Interim Head Coach Cameron Knowles

Interim head coach Cameron Knowles knows that Orlando has plenty of potential, depending on which team shows up to see the Loons.

“So it’s a big unknown for us what team they’ll put out. I think when you look at their results so far in MLS, they haven’t scored a goal — but man, they played better than that. You know, and I think their overall play: you scout a team, not just scout a result. You’ve got to look at how they play. And even that Miami game, you know, they concede two chances and find themselves down two-nil. But in that first 10 or 15 minutes, I thought they were very impressive,” Knowles said. “So not a team we can take lightly by any means.”

Óscar Pareja has set up his side for flexibility, making them dangerous in both MLS and CCC play, even if it hasn’t shown through in the final results of the first two league matches.

“He’s a really good coach, you know, and so that’s again, why it’s hard to know what they’ll do because he can set his team up in different ways to be successful. You know, if they think there’s a certain way to play against us, then we might see something that we haven’t seen through the first two or three games. And so for our guys, just having that mentality of being able to solve problems on the field and being ready for, you know, potentially something different to what we’re showing them [like the last few] games of Orlando.”

Minnesota also has that flexibility, especially with Robin Lod and Bongokuhle Hlongwane returning from injury. But the Loons’ defense may face its toughest task of the year yet with the options that Orlando has available.

“Yeah, I mean, look those guys [the fullbacks] in those positions have done really well. It’s taxing certainly, and the width they’ve played. It’s gonna be another area, looking at this game, where we’re gonna need those guys to work hard to manage situations coming the other way. One-v-one defending and things like that, we got to continue to work on because they are going to find themselves in situations where they’re isolated. Across fullbacks, back four, and our team defending has been good, but it’s still in its infancy really.”

Key Players

While Emanuel Reynoso and Francisco Fragapane remain out (the latter expected to appear next weekend), midfielder Robin Lod who opened MNUFC’s scoring in Week 1 against Austin FC, and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who has been listed as out due to fitness issues after a stretch away to resolve a visa issue, are available for Saturday’s game. Their presence will provide additional flexibility for the Loons’ attack, even if they start the night on the bench.

Teemu Pukki is set to remain the central striker in Knowles’ 4-3-3 and this may be a game that favors his ability to post up in space and poach scoring opportunities. At the back, Michael Boxall and Mickey Tapias will be called upon early and often.

While Facundo Torres is questionable due to injury and not likely to score the two goals he needs to tie Nani for second all-time in club history, Duncan McGuire is available, having started in both of OCSC’s MLS matches and coming in as a late sub in Tuesday’s match against Tigres. It was McGuire who unlocked the game when these two teams met at Allianz Field last year. McGuire has tallied 1 goal and 7 shots for the Lions in all competitions this year.

Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s 2024 season has been a mixed bag. He has 2 clean sheets in 3 CCC appearances, the latest being this week’s draw with Tigres. After making 4 saves in the first leg against Cavalry and 5 saves against Montreal (his one clean sheet in MLS play), Gallese was easily beat by Inter Miami, conceding 5 goals in a game where Miami put only 5 shots on goal.

Read more about Orlando City’s attacking force here.

Loons Miscellany

  • This match will be Cameron Knowles’ last as head of MNUFC’s coaching staff, as new head coach Eric Ramsay is set to arrive in Minnesota this weekend. After being introduced to club staff and players on Tuesday, Ramsay, alongside CSO Khaled El-Ahmad, will meet the media on Wednesday, March 13. Knowles will remain available to assist Ramsay and ease the transition but the long-term plan has yet to be revealed.

“My job at this point of time is obviously the game this weekend and to help him [Ramsay] hit the ground running when he gets here, you know,” Knowles said. “And then how that shakes out moving forward, we’ll see.”

  • The fifth meeting of Minnesota United FC and Orlando City SC will be the first of the post-Adrian Heath era. The previous four match-ups had an essence of a derby atmosphere as Heath and Mark Watson worked together for Orlando City as the club began its MLS tenure, before moving north to do the same for Minnesota.
Adrian Heath lays his had upon his head in disappointment.
Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath reacts to a play during the match between Minnesota United and Orlando City SC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The match kicks off at 6:30 PM CST (6:39 PM actual). Follow Northland Soccer for live coverage and post-match reactions and recap.


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