Ahead of Wednesday's trip north to face Minnesota United FC, SportingKC.com caught up with Minneapolis Star Tribune writer David La Vaque to preview the fourth round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match. A live stream of the match will be available on SportingKC.com with coverage starting at 7 p.m. CT.
How would you sum up Minnesota United FC's NASL spring season?
United's spring season was a bit of a disappointment. They came into the year with six members of their team having been league All-Stars in 2015. They thought "we've got talent, we've got depth, and we've got experience so this should be a really good year for us". To their credit, with four weeks to go in the season, they got to number one in the spring season standings but then had three consecutive losses. It knocked them not only out of the number one spot but knocked them out of contention for the spring season title. They were able to salvage a little bit of pride by beating Miami FC last week and now they look forward to playing Sporting KC and then a friendly against Mexican side Club Leon.
Who have been the key players for Minnesota this season?
Defender Kevin Venegas, he led the NASL with five assists. He's a tremendous play-making defender and very noticeable in the final third. Christian Ramirez leads the team in scoring and a player who received a shout-out on Twitter from Jurgen Klinsmann for his goal against New York Cosmos earlier in the season. He scored on Saturday against Miami so maybe he's found his form. Then there's Ben Speas, a guy with MLS experience, who the coach compared him to a star quarterback of a football team that gets everything going for the team's offense. Him playing on Saturday was a big reason Ramirez scored. Ramirez scored off a pass from Speas and that combination works very well together.
Minnesota have suffered several injuries during the spring season. How will this impact Wednesday's match?
The rash of injuries that United has been dealing with include Bernardo Anor, who shattered his ankle in practice and is out for several months. We did see Ibson, he scored a goal in stoppage time and we did see Danny Cruz and we did see Stefano Pinho (against Miami FC on Saturday). There are guys coming back. Speas had been back in the lineup against St Louis FC but he got more minutes and looked more like himself on Saturday.
Ibson has been lost most of the season with a knee injury. Tiago Calvano, a veteran presence on the back line, is still banged up. They're getting some of their guys back. They're not a whole roster but there's enough back where you saw in the performance on Saturday, United were able to play their style and put pressure on Miami's defense. They've got enough back where they'll be competitive against Sporting KC.
How important of a match is this for Minnesota (hosting an MLS side in Open Cup)?
Anytime you play an MLS team it's a big thing but Minnesota is on the cusp of joining the league. Now, they're looking to make a statement against Sporting KC that they're going to come into MLS and be a team to contend right away. That's the message they're hoping to convey. Christian Ramirez said they're ready to go the full 120 minutes against Sporting KC. And then Ben Speas upped the ante and said "I think we're going to put them under". Minnesota is very much got this one circled and want to show well for their themselves, being that they are on the cusp of becoming an MLS franchise.