Match Preview: MNUFC @ Philadelphia Union

The Loons once again carry an undefeated streak to the east coast, this time with a complete coaching complement

Two of the remaining five undefeated teams in MLS will face off on Saturday afternoon and much has been made (by us, yes – we’ll own it) of the fact that one of them is Minnesota United FC. After a bye week/international break, the Loons head east to Subaru Park in Chester, PA., to play a struggling Philadelphia Union. After exiting the Concacaf Champions Cup in the Round of 16, Jim Curtin’s side has had a little more time to focus on league play — which paid off last week as the Union notched their first win of the MLS season. Meanwhile, Minnesota continues to adjust to coaching changes with first assistant Dennis Lawrence arriving in time for this week’s preparations and head coach Eric Ramsay continuing to learn about his squad. With both teams rolling in hot, there is a very good chance that one side’s undefeated streak will end here. (And there is a non-zero chance that this match will end in a scoreless draw but we’ll take the over on that scoreline for the sake of this preview.)

Form (W-L-D)

MIN: 1st in West (10 pts), 3-0-1, GD +4. Last 4: W-D-W-W

PHI: 9th in East (6 pts), 1-0-3, GD +2. Last 4 (MLS): D-D-D-W


MIN: OUT: M. Tapias (Thigh), Z. Valentin (Thigh), K. Arriaga (Knee), E. Reynoso (Away from club to resolve green card)

PHI: OUT: L. Flach (Shoulder), I. LeFlore (Knee), H. Trent (Finger)

Training Insights

Dennis Lawrence, who served as an assistant coach at English Championship side Coventry City since 2021, brings a wealth of coaching experience to the role of MNUFC first-team assistant, and, at 49, raises the average age of the coaching staff. Eric Ramsay said Lawrence will be his right-hand man and Lawrence is fully prepared to do that. “Obviously, because he’s new to it, he’s gonna have questions about his decisions. I’m going to try to be the one to encourage him to make his decisions; they’ll be his decisions,” Lawrence said this week.

More importantly, his thoughts on the game are in line with Ramsay’s — continuous learning, staff/player trust, and smiles.

“Because I think looking and working with these players for the last three, four days, you can see they are special players, and they all want to learn. And I think that’s important. So we’re going to bring information to them. And we’re going to give it — they need to trust that the information is going to be correct to help us to achieve what we want to achieve. We’re very open because we don’t know everything. So we’re very open to having players question us because players: they are the ones on the pitch. They see the game; they understand that they’re involved in the moment. So they’re going to bring questions to us, and we’ll be prepared to answer them. So it’s all about the trust that we can build, the team unity, and keeping everything and a very, very enjoyable point because we want players coming into training need to be coming in looking forward to being in work. They need to be coming in with smiles on their faces, and then that will reflect on you on the soccer pitch. So that’s the idea.”

Defensive midfielder and co-captain, Wil Trapp, an MLS veteran who has played under a wide variety of coaching styles, reflected on how head coach Ramsay’s style has benefited the team. “I think the first and most obvious is just how concise everything is. It’s just, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna have a meeting about it. We’re gonna talk about it. We’re gonna see the picture. Then we’re gonna go on the field and train it. It’s not going to take a lot of time, but it’s extremely clear. Which I think for all players, it’s very consumable, and helpful,” he explained to NSJ. “Beyond that, I think for a manager in his first job, he has a really good poise about him, just how calm he is, how he analyzes what’s going on with the team, but he’s able to articulate his vision to the group very simply.”

Ramsay’s vision this week: Defend clinically and take their chances when they come.

“[Philadelphia] is strong, physical. [They] attack in a very direct way with the front two that can really hurt teams. They cross very, very early. It’s, as I said earlier in the week, it’s one for us where we really need to stand up to the physical battle because that will be definitive as to how successful we are there,” said Ramsay on Friday. “So in some sense, it’s a nice message to celebrate because I think if you can do that, then we’ll inevitably get chances. We’ve got some very good players on the break. So we feel like it’s a game that we can take something from, but we’ve obviously got to do the very basics of the game exceptionally well.”

Season scoring leaders for MN United FC and Philadelphia Union with 4 matches played. (Table courtesy of MNUFC)

Key Players

Julián Carranza scored two goals in the Union’s 3-1 win over Portland last week and will keep Minnesota’s injury depleted backline busy. The brace led to Carranza’s inclusion in the MLS Team of the Matchday, alongside Curtin and goalkeeper Oliver Semmle. Semmle and Minnesota’s Dayne St. Clair have faced similar in-game challenges this season — quiet stretches of game play followed by bursts of chances that showed both to be on the front foot so this could be a goalkeeper matchup.

The Loons’ backline will be in flux, with both Tapias and Valentin unavailable. Victor Eriksson is likely to make his first MLS appearance for the Loons after a solid shift in the club’s midweek international friendly against St. Patrick’s, one that solidified Ramsay’s faith in him:

“I think he’s still a while away from being completely match sharp, but he’s obviously —  physically he’s a real presence, and he can handle the ball well, and he’s very aggressive. And he’s really coachable,” Ramsay said. “And he’s someone that I’m sure will fit into the group eventually really well. So when that moment comes in, I’ll have full faith in him.”

With Reynoso still away, Teemu Pukki and Bongi Hlongwane will play — The pair have grown in their front-three partnership with the former proving he still has the edge (fresh off his 40th goal for Finland) and the latter showing a growing confidence and maturity in the lineup. Sang Bin Jeong has shown the same growth and this match could be a fun test for the trio.

Loons Miscellany

  • Luchi Gonzalez, Peter Vermes, Jim Curtin… Eric Ramsay. NSJ asked head coach Eric Ramsay one final burning question after Friday’s training session:

NSJ: “Are you familiar with Jim Curtain’s fashion style? You’re both a fan of the selvage denim, and do you plan to keep up with him on the sideline in that regard?”
Ramsay: “No, I’m not but I’m looking forward to the surprise now. I hadn’t heard anything about Jim Curtin’s fashion style. So I look forward to seeing what he wears.”

  • Sang Bin Jeong has been called up for international duty with South Korea for the 2024 Asian Football Confederation U23 Asian Cup. He will leave Minnesota after the home match vs Houston in mid-April.


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