PREVIEW | United vs. Rowdies

The Tampa Bay Rowdies will host Minnesota United, as the latter plays their first NASL league match this season
Apr 10, 2015

Minnesota United looks to pick up where it left off in 2014. The Loons ultimately fell short of their goal in 2014, but not before recording a historic season – setting franchise records for goals (47), assists (33), points (55) and wins (16). United will be encouraged by its recent offseason results and has eyes on the NASL Championship in 2015 and a deep run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The Loons start the season a week later than most North American Soccer League (NASL) teams, with a Week 2 opening match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Rowdies won their first match of the season, 3-1, against last year’s NASL Champions, the San Antonio Scorpions.

"We are playing against a team that just got a great result on the road and they are going to be very confident," Minnesota United head coach Manny Lagos said. "It's a great challenge for us, we know they are going to have a great crowd and will be ready to go. We are excited, we've had a great preseason with some strong competition, and I think we are fully prepared to take the field on Saturday."


The Tampa Bay Rowdies play a very attractive style of soccer, working the ball up the field with diagonal passes from the backline, through the midfield,  all the way up to the forwards. Last weekend, the Rowdies lined up in a 4-3-3, leaving one striker at midfield throughout the match. Watch for overlapping runs from the outside and nice through balls played from central midfield.

The Rowdies play a physical style of defense and look to control and attack out of the back. Tampa Bay is well organized, and quick to get back and help on defense. However, their outside backs are eager to get forward and can get caught too far up the pitch.


Miguel Ibarra – After spending much of the offseason traveling with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Miguel Ibarra is back and better than ever. He is quick and finishing more confidently than he has in his entire career. A fast start will be key for this midfielder, who will need plenty of touches on the ball for United to be successful.

Ibson – The 31-year-old Brazilian midfielder will be expected to make an impact in his first start for Minnesota United. With a resume filled with experience on world-class squads, Ibson is a composed defensive-midfield player whose field vision rivals the best of the NASL.

Sammy Ndjock or Mitch Hildebrandt – Ndjock and Hildebrandt split time this preseason for Minnesota United in the net. It is yet unclear who will be getting the nod in the first match of the season.

Georgi Hristov – The new Rowdies' head coach Thomas Rongen was quoted in late preseason saying he expects a lot from Hristov in 2015. After a bit of an off year in 2014, Hristov is set to explode in 2015 – already tallying two assists in the Rowdies opening match. Much of the play moving forward for the Rowdies will be orchestrated from his feet.

Darnell King – King was a member of the 2014 NASL Best XI and is a leader in the backline for the Rowdies. As a member of the 2014 Fort Lauderdale Strikers, King was part of a Strikers squad that made it to The Championship Final. King likes to get forward and stretch the field and is a strong tackler at the right back position.


It is difficult to judge a team based purely on preseason matches, but Minnesota United has been impressive in 2015 – recording four wins, three draws and two losses this preseason. Most noteworthy is United’s track record going forward – tallying 13 goals in nine matches, against top-tier teams from MLS and Brazil.

“Our preseason was pretty good – we played some tough games, and I’m happy with how it went, but now it’s time to put that practice in practice in play,” United veteran defender Tiago Calvano said. “Saturday we have our first game, and it’s time to make our preseason work show and get the three points.”

United is lining up against a Tampa Bay Rowdies team that brought in 20 new players this offseason and played a healthy 10 preseason matches to prepare for 2015. The Rowdies are eyeing a postseason berth this season, and are focused on building a squad that will be successful in the NASL for several years. Led by a head coach with MLS and U.S. Youth National Team experience in Thomas Rongen, the Rowdies were dominant in their 3-1 win this past Saturday against the San Antonio Scorpions.

The Rowdies are dangerous from set pieces, scoring from a corner against the Scorpions and nearly scoring twice more from dead-ball plays. This could prove detrimental for United, who has struggled defending set pieces this preseason. Communication in the back from Calvano and Dias will be key to keeping a clean sheet Saturday night.

“[Our defense] is doing well, but there is always room to improve,” United’s Calvano said. “I am happy with the way we are playing, and we’ll see how we match up Saturday.”

Matches pitting Minnesota United and Tampa Bay against one another tend to be high-scoring affairs – five of the last seven meetings between the two teams have seen five or more goals scored. Christian Ramirez scored three of his 20 goals in 2014 against the Rowdies. All-time, Minnesota leads the series with nine wins, six draws, and seven losses. Since 2013, the Loons have lost just once against the Rowdies.

A high-scoring match would likely favor United, which boasts a surplus of fanatic scorers. Proven NASL goalscorers for the Loons include the likes of Christian Ramirez, Pablo Campos, Daniel Mendes, and Miguel Ibarra.  With prowess moving forward, and experience in the back, Minnesota is poised for another historic season.

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