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Minnesota United begins tough stretch of schedule Saturday against Houston Dynamo

Minnesota United defender Ike Opara (30) makes a sliding tackle against Houston Dynamo forward Romell Quioto (31) during a February 2019 preseason game in Arizona. The teams meet again Saturday, May 25, at Allianz Field in St. Paul. Joe Camporeale / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United will be enticed to push players forward to score a goal in their higher-stakes game Saturday, May 25, against the Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field.

The Loons must be cautious to not get caught in a trap.

The Dynamo want United to get greedy, and if they overextend, spring a counterattack. Houston has the pieces to make Minnesota pay in Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Memo Rodriguez.

Houston (7-2-2) is second in MLS with 2.09 points per game and sits five points ahead of Minnesota (5-4-3) in the Western Conference standings. While it’s only May, the Loons, who are fifth in the West, could show they’re more than just among MLS Cup playoff hopefuls.

Loons captain Ozzie Alonso pointed to a potential six-point swing if Minnesota wins.

“They have good talent up front,” Alonso said. “They can counterattack you very well. … They are a dangerous team. …We have to find a way to get the three points.”

United is undefeated in St. Paul, while Houston’s third-place spot in the West is skewed by being undefeated in eight home games, but losers of two of three games on the road this season.

The Loons have given up four goals in five games at Allianz Field. Excluding the 3-3 draw with New York City in a frenetic stadium opener, Minnesota has conceded only one goal in their last four.

“The collective has been the star of the show, not individuals,” United coach Adrian Heath said.

Alonso said their defensive key has been staying compact, from striker Angelo Rodriquez to goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

While teams can bring a different tactic on the road, Heath has watched the Dynamo play a similar style outside of Texas.

“They leave numbers high at times and let their back six get on with it,” he said. “It’s opportunities. You must make the most of them when they come your way. … When you get your opportunities, especially at home, you need to take them, and that gives you a platform from which to build on.”

Both Houston and Minnesota could be without key players Saturday.

Elis, an MLS all-star in 2018, is listed as questionable for the Dynamo after a head-to-head collision with D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum in the first minute of their game last Saturday.

Elis wasn’t participating during the club’s open portions of training this week, but coach Wilmer Cabrera said this week that Elis has responded well in the concussion protocol.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Kevin Molino left Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly loss to Hertha Berlin with left hamstring tightness. He wasn’t on Minnesota’s injury report, but he didn’t participate in Friday’s training. Heath said Molino was “doubtful” for Saturday.

After Houston, Minnesota plays two top teams in the Eastern Conference — Atlanta on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Sunday. That’s three games in nine days, and Molino also has aspirations to play for Trinidad and Tobago in the Gold Cup.

“You just don’t want to push him,” Heath said. “We have a big month coming up, and he’s got a big month coming up.”

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