Know Your Enemy: Minnesota United FC

Matchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 4th Round
When:Wednesday, June 6th, 7:30 PM
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

There may not be many of these underdog stories left.

With FC Cincinnati’s spot in the MLS seemingly locked up for next year, each game in the U.S. Open Cup could be their last as a USL team. While fans salivated for a return match against either Chicago or Columbus, a home match against a different MLS squad will have to be the next step to the top.

Last month, FCC beat the system twice to get to the fourth round of the Open Cup. After a second-round nail-biter against Detroit City FC, the Orange & Blue finally beat a team helmed by Bob Lilley, riding three consecutive goals to edge the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh, 3-1. The next box to check is a fourth-round match against Minnesota United FC, a team that climbed a similar ladder to get to MLS.

Minnesota’s first year in MLS was expectedly subpar. The team depended on transfers of key names from their NASL team, six players making the move. While trades to get Ethan Finley and Kevin Molino from Columbus and Orlando stabilized the team, the defense was the worst in the league, giving up a season-record 70 goals. However, forward Christian Ramirez had a breakout MLS debut season, collecting 14 goals and helping the team avoid the cellar.

While the defense has done much better out of the gate in 2018, the team still lingers near the bottom of the Western Conference (9th out of 12). Minnesota’s inability to avoid the injury bug has plagued them. Goalkeeper injuries forced Minnesota to return to Bobby Shuttleworth, who played the entire season in goal last year. Both Molino and Finlay have also gone down with torn ACLs to miss the rest of the season, leaving the team threadbare in the middle. While the team can depend on veterans Miguel Ibarra and Ibson in the middle and Darwin Quintero up top with Ramirez, it will be interesting to see how the Minnesota lineup looks three days after a 4-1 road loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Here’s a few notes about the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

History from the North

  • While Minnesota’s lifespan as an MLS squad has been short, the team itself has been functioning since 2010, back when it was NSC Minnesota (the “NSC” standing for “National Sports Center”, the team’s home facility). The team captured the NASL Championship in its second year (hence the double-meaning for the star on its logo) before they changed their name to the “Minnesota Stars” and then “Minnesota United FC”.
  • Minnesota United FC rebranded their nickname as the “Loons” in 2013 to match the state bird. The badge is comprised of a loon with 11 feathers on its wing—one for each player on the pitch—taking flight over a background composed of two colors, one for Minneapolis and one for St. Paul.
  • Before Minnesota United, there were two Division-I teams from Minnesota—the Minnesota Kicks (1976-1981) and Minnesota Strikers (1984). In the heyday of the NASL in the 1970s, the Kicks were quite the powerhouse, winning four straight divisional titles and drawing over 30,000 per game, second only to the New York Cosmos. Three years after the Kicks disbanded, Ft. Lauderdale moved their team to Minnesota, only to become an indoor soccer club the next year.
  • After the demise of the Strikers, the Minnesota Thunder stepped in to fill the void. The team debuted in the 1994 USISL season and went undefeated until they lost in the final. The Thunder would play 16 years in Division II soccer, winning the USL A-League Championship in 1999. They advanced as far as the U.S. Open Cup Semifinals in 2005, beating Real Salt Lake, the Colorado Rapids, and the Kansas City Wizards along the way.
Corben Bone winds up to shoot against Matt Lampson in last year’s USOC match against the Chicago Fire. Lampson now wears Minnesota United colors. Image: JES Photography

Open Cup Connections

  • While the Thunder performed well in the Open Cup, Minnesota United FC has not. The Loons had their best run in 2012, upsetting Real Salt Lake 3-1 on the road in the third round before losing to San Jose in the fourth round. Their kryptonite has been MLS itself—Minnesota has lost to Sporting Kansas City three of the last four seasons, including a 4-0 loss on the road last year.
  • Only one member of the Loons has faced FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup, but his name probably sounds familiar. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson started for the Chicago Fire in last year’s thriller at Nippert, making seven saves in net, only to be out-dueled by Mitch Hildebrandt. Lampson’s availability is up in the air, as he recovers from a knee injury.
  • Coach Adrian Heath is hoping to bank on past successes in the Open Cup. He led Orlando City SC to the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2015, only to lose to Chicago both years.

Crossing the Mississippi

  • Wednesday will be the first time Cincinnati has played an MLS team from the Western Conference. However, it will not be the first competitive match FCC has played against any Western Conference team, as St. Louis FC was a member of the USL West back in 2016.
  • DID YOU KNOW? Wednesday will be the first time that a Cincinnati soccer club has played a Minnesota soccer club since 2003. From 1998 to 2003, the Minnesota Thunder and Cincinnati Riverhawks both played in the USL A-League. However, the contests were considerably one-sided. In 19 matchups between the two teams, the Riverhawks won against the Thunder only once. That one victory came in August of 1998 and was followed by 16 consecutive defeats to the Thunder.

Can FC Cincinnati avenge the ghosts of the Riverhawks’ past and pull off another upset against an MLS squad? Follow ussoccer.com for the live stream on Wednesday and read Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Wednesday’s match and future progress in the U.S. Open Cup.

Author: Geoffrey Tebbetts

Contributor for the Orange & Blue Press for FC Cincinnati coverage.

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