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Minnesota United-Galaxy Preview
Minnesota United was abysmal on the road last year, winning only one game and finishing with a 1-14-2 record in league play.
A five-game road trip to begin the 2019 season looked to present a nearly impossible challenge.
So far, so good, however. The Loons have doubled their road win total from last year just two games in, with an opening-weekend 3-2 victory at Vancouver and last week's 3-0 drubbing of the Earthquakes in San Jose.
The Black and Blue will face a stiffer test this week as it tries to continue its hot road start when visiting the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night, even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic sidelined due to injury.
Darwin Quintero has been at the center of United's early success. Minnesota has scored six goals this season, and Quintero has scored two of them and assisted on three others.
The 31-year-old Columbia native had 11 goals and 15 assists in 27 games last season and is off to an even more promising start this year.
While the attacking play has drawn the lion's share of the attention, coach Adrian Heath has been more impressed by his team's central midfield, notably Osvaldo Alonso and Jan Gregus.
"I'm glad they've had a couple of good games together because I wouldn't change them two for anybody in the league," Heath said. "I don't think it's a coincidence that we've dominated both games' possession because we've got two really good continuity players in there.
"We've got people who know where to go, to stand and get the ball, we've got people who know when to pick the pace of the game up, when to slow the game down and that's only going to get better, that partnership."
The combination of possession and finishing reached its peak in the second half against San Jose last week when the Loons scored all three of their goals in the franchise's largest margin of victory in an MLS road game.
"It's been a really good performance and I'm pleased with the group, pleased with the fact that it's a clean sheet, and it's a good start," Heath added.
The host Galaxy were without two of their best players in last week's 2-0 loss at FC Dallas, with Ibrahimovic out due to an Achilles injury and midfielder Romain Alessandrini sidelined by problems with his right hamstring.
"Yeah of course, we missed them. The quality for Romain and Zlatan is very high but there's no excuse," coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. "I think in the first half we played really well, we had opportunities but in the second half we made mistakes."
The two players combined for 33 goals and 19 assists last year, and the Galaxy attack was anemic without them, generating just one shot on target against Dallas.
The L.A. Times reported that Ibrahimovic hasn't trained all week and his injury could keep him off the field for an extended period of time.
Ibrahimovic's vow before the season to break every MLS record - along with the Galaxy's playoff hopes - could be put in jeopardy if the Swedish star doesn't return to the lineup soon.
Updated March 14, 2019