Match Preview: MNUFC vs Columbus Crew

Minnesota United FC will open the 2024 home season on Saturday, March 2, in a rare matinee against Eastern Conference foe and defending MLS Cup Champions, Columbus Crew. With a forecasted high of 63F, St Paul’s Allianz Field is set to give a warm welcome to Loons fans and a Loons original alike.

MNUFC Training Notes

After a thrilling 2-1 win on the road last weekend against Austin FC, the Loons have answers to a few of the many questions about the season ahead. First, the Loons proved they can play through adversity and uncertainty. At the time, the identity of the club’s next head coach was a rumor — a well-sourced rumor but unofficial nonetheless. MNUFC did not push send on the official announcement signing of Eric Ramsay until 5 PM CST on Monday night. Even with the name confirmed, until Ramsay acquires his visa and touches down in Minnesota, it’s Knowles’ squad.

After a training session this past week, Minnesota-native Caden Clark, who made his club debut as a substitute in Austin, reflected on the squads’ ongoing preparation under an interim coaching staff. “I think you just got to trust in the system and trust each other. I’ve said this before, the coach matters, of course, but it’s also the players that have control of the situation.” Echoing thoughts shared by other players through preseason and training ahead of the first game, Clark added, “Of course the tactics they give us that you know how to play, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones out there who have to score the goals and make the tackles and hold each other accountable. So whoever the coach is at the moment, at the time it’s just about taking control.”

Clark himself is the answer to two other big questions: Amidst all these changes, can the squad survive [again] an injury absence of Emanuel Reynoso and will the club learn to lean on their academy and more youthful players as they move ahead with an older side?

Clark’s performance against Austin together with MNUFC2’s Loic Mesanvi (who has again been signed to a short-term contract to shore up the bench against Columbus) answer both questions. While Reynoso’s skill and experience make him an irreplaceable piece of the Loons’ attack, the pressing style pushed by Knowles and CSO Khaled El-Ahmed favor wingers like Clark and Mesanvi in those late, backs-against-the-wall moments of a tight game. The combination differs a bit from Clark’s last MLS club, New York Red Bulls:

“Yeah, I think obviously, there’s a lot of young guys at Red Bulls, and the majority of the team is very young,” he told NSJ. “Of course, you have some older players, but it’s just like a younger culture. And it’s almost like a U19 youth team, you know, as at some moments, and then you have your veterans in the locker room as well. Here, it’s obviously a few few young-uns, but a lot of older players that are 26 and above. So I think just having a different mesh, and the culture is good, and there’s a good locker room banter.”

If you have read this far, you might be wondering whether you clicked on a Loon Dive column by mistake. I hear you – Let’s get to the important stuff.


MIN: Out: F. Fragapane (thigh), B. Hlongwane (not due to injury), R. Lod (leg), E. Reynoso (knee). Questionable: None

CLB: Out: M. Farsi (lower leg). Questionable: None


MIN: 1-0-0 (0-0-0 at home), 3rd in West (3 pts). Last match: 2-1 win at Austin FC (Goals: R. Lod, A. Bran).

CLB: 1-0-0 (0-0-0 on the road), 3rd in East (3 pts). Last match: 1-0 win vs Atlanta United (Goal: C. Hernandez)

Head-to-Head: CLB lead 3-1-0 (W-L-D) in MLS regular season, CLB lead 3-1-2 all-time

Key Players

We are one week in and it’s already next man up for the Loons. With Lod and Reynoso dealing with knocks and Hlongwane still working back into fitness, the Loons may be turning to Caden Clark sooner than the hour mark to compliment Teemu Pukki’s striking style up front. Before registering the assist on Bran’s goal last week, Clark initiated a handful of counterattacking runs that completely switched the momentum of the second half – an energy the Loons will need against a harder to shake Columbus side.

With Knowles’ 4-3-3 formation, the midfielders have some freedom to do what they do best, Hassani Dotson included. His stability through 90 minutes in Austin bodes well for whichever winger replaces Fragapane in front of him this weekend as he can overlap or swap sides with just about anyone. Most importantly, the Michael Boxall and Mickey Tapias pairing is back which means that anyone who beats Minnesota’s wingers into the final third will have to square up to a brick wall and a pickpocket, respectively.

The player most likely to make friends with Boxy (and probably a few others) on Saturday afternoon is Cucho Hernandez. No one shatters a backline quite like Cucho and he’s riding the high of the lone goal in the Crew’s home opener last weekend. With former LAFC standout Diego Rossi fitting in nicely behind Cucho, Columbus can contend with the Loons for total shots.

Columbus hasn’t seen too many defensive changes since their MLS Cup run. Clark & Co. are up against veterans Rudy Camacho and Malte Amundsen on the Crew’s backline who, like Boxall and Tapias, have been picking apart speedy runs and crosses for nearly as long as Minnesota has been in the league. Speaking of Minnesota’s time in the league…

Saturday’s match marks the first time Christian Ramirez will suit up in the state of Minnesota since his trade to LAFC in 2018. After joining Columbus in 2023 from a rocky stint with Scotland’s Aberdeen, Ramirez suffered an injury that kept him out for the first 2 months of the season, but he recovered to start in 19 of 30 appearances, breaking the 1000 minute barrier for the first time since 2018. While he didn’t play in the Crew’s home opener, there is a very good chance we see him take to the pitch on Saturday. In an interview with Pioneer Press this week, Ramirez said that should he score Saturday, he wouldn’t celebrate out of respect for the Minnesota club and its fans.


Even with all the positives ahead for this club, the best start to the home season for MNUFC would be an opportunity to sing Wonderwall at home opener. After so few opportunities to sing at Allianz in 2023 and with the months of uncertainty through the offseason, the sooner the better in 2024.

The match kicks off at 1:00 PM CST (1:09 actual time). If you can’t be there in the house that Christian built, tune in with MLS Season Pass and follow @NorthlandSoccer on Twitter for live updates.

We see you, Superman.

July 18, 2018 – Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States – Minnesota United forward Christian Ramirez (21) reacts to scoring a goal in the 5′ of the Minnesota United vs New England Revolution match at TCF Bank Stadium.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)


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