Minnesota United hoping to take fire out of Chicago
Minnesota United FC takes some momentum and swagger into play when it faces the Chicago Fire in its home opener on Saturday at TCB Stadium in Minneapolis. But there's some consternation as well, and not just because the Loons will be squaring off on their home pitch against one of MLS's best teams.
The Loons (1-1) posted their first win of the 2018 campaign March 10 with a 2-1 decision at Orlando City as Ethan Finlay netted a pair of goals in Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath's emotional return to the city where he produced two USL championships.
But the good vibes produced by Minnesota United's victory were tempered, in a major way, when star midfielder Kevin Molino, who assisted on Finlay's first goal, went down with a non-contact injury in the 50th minute. Molino tore his left ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
The 27-year-old was also sidelined for most of the 2015 campaign with Orlando City SC when he tore his right ACL.
Finlay said the Loons' determination to secure three points after Molino went down showed the squad's resiliency.
"You lose one of your best players, an offensive player going forward, in a 1-1 game on the road (at the time of the injury)," Finlay said. "It's tough to lose a guy like that who you know is going to have his best performances, probably, against his old club. Our thoughts are obviously with Kev."
It was the fifth brace of Finlay's MLS career and his first since Aug. 14, 2016 against New York City FC. Finlay has scored a total of three goals in 13 previous games against Chicago.
The Fire, meanwhile, had no problems scoring in their opening game 4-3 loss at Sporting Kansas City on March 10. It was concentration and defense that cost Chicago the win, and the team was emphasized both in its open week and preparations for the match in Minnesota.
Chicago erased a two-goal deficit with three goals in a 12-minute span, including a brace by Nemanja Nikolic, but then surrendered a pair of SKC goals three minutes apart and lost.
"When you are 2-0 down and you come back and you are leading 3-2 10 minutes before the end and you lose 3-4, of course it feels like you gave it away," Chicago midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. "But I liked the reaction, we were not satisfied after the first half. We came back, we were leading 3-2, but we have to work on our defensive work of the whole team to make it easier for our backline."
It was the 16th time in franchise history they have scored three times or more in a match and did not win (8L-8D) and the first time its happened since June 22, 2016.
Chicago produced a nice display of open attacking soccer, with Nikolic continuing where he left off a year ago and Aleksandar Katai scoring on his impressive debut.
"We have to, you know, in the modern game, you have to kill," Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic said of his team's defensive issues. "We all have to do a better job defending because if we're not consistent this is what is going to happen.
"We can score a lot of goals. We proved that in the past and we did it today. But if we don't defend well, if we commit those innocent mistakes, it's just going to come back over and over again."
There is just one previous meeting, with Minnesota United FC defeating Chicago Fire, 2-1, Aug. 26, 2017 at Toyota Park.
Updated March 16, 2018