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Minnesota United at Los Angeles FC: Keys to the match, projected starting XI and a prediction

Minnesota United at Los Angeles FC

When: 9:45 p.m. CT Wednesday
Where: BMO Stadium
Stream: Apple TV Season Pass
Radio: KSTP-AM 1500 ESPN
Weather: 67 degrees, sunny, 7 mph northeast wind
Betting line: LAFC minus-170; draw plus-300; MNUFC plus-380

Form: MNUFC (7-2-4, 25 points) is on a six-match unbeaten streak, but some of the sheen came off when the Loons gave up a two-goal halftime lead in a 3-3 draw with Colorado on Saturday. LAFC (7-4-3, 24 points) is on a three-match winning streak, including 1-0 over Atlanta United last weekend. After a red card on Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Mateusz Bogusz scored on the ensuing free kick to provide the slim difference.

Splits: LAFC is unbeaten (5-0-2) at home this season; Loons have the most road wins (4) in the Western Conference this year.

Last matchup: In his first match in charge, Loons head coach Eric Ramsay won his first MLS game, 2-0 over LAFC at Allianz Field on March 16. The Loons had been winless in their previous seven matches against LAFC.

Absences: Emanuel Reynoso (return-to-play protocol/potential transfer to Club Tijuana) and Hugo Bacharach (knee) are out. Franco Fragapane (leg) is listed as questionable. Joseph Rosales would serve a one-game suspension when he is booked with his next yellow card due to accumulation.

Projected XI: In a 5-3-2 formation, CF Teemu Pukki, CF Sang Bin Jeong; CM Robin Lod, CM Wil Trapp, CM Hassani Dotson; LB Joseph Rosales, CB Micky Tapias, CB Michael Boxall, CB Kervin Arriaga; RB DJ Taylor; GK Dayne St. Clair

Reminder: Ramsay was willing to tinker/freshen up his starting lineup during a two-game week earlier this month and will likely pull other levers this week. The return of Tapias (red-card suspension) and Dotson (hamstring) will serve as two tailor-made changes already. Ramsay said Dotson will likely start either Wednesday or Saturday’s home game versus Sporting Kansas City.

One theme: MNUFC has completed 4,045 passes this season, which is dead last in MLS, while the Loons’ possession percentage is third lowest (45.2) in the league.

“I don’t read into it into too great of detail,” Ramsay said Tuesday on passes. “… We want to be a team that is able to win games in a way that suits the players we’ve got. We want the players to feel as though they are set up to win as opposed to setting up in a way that feeds my ego because we have more possession and more completed passes.”

Another theme: Pukki, the Loons’ highest-paid player, has not scored in more than 518 minutes across 10 straight matches this season. The Finn had two goals against Orlando City on March 9 but zero since then. He put a potential game-winner off the post in the 87th minute Saturday in Colorado.

“I really value the contribution that he’s made (when Pukki has subbed on in some matches and the team isn’t attacking as much),” Ramsay said. “He’s been pretty selfless in that sense. Obviously he’s a player that wants to spend a lot of time close to goal. He wants to spend time close to goal with players close to him, which he can combine and play the type of football he wants to play and will get him more chances than he’s getting at the moment.”

Ramsay expressed confidence Pukki will stack up goals. The 34-year-old had a similar lull when first coming to the U.S. last summer.

Look-ahead: St. Clair (Canada), Arriaga (Honduras), Rosales (Honduras), Pukki (Finland) and Lod (Finland) are the initial five players called up their national teams during the FIFA window in early June. These five and others will miss the June 8 match against FC Dallas. The only upcoming call-up who might miss the Kansas City game is Alejandro Bran (Costa Rica). Loons leading goal scorer Tani Oluwaseyi was not called up for Canada’s friendlies to start June but is on the country’s provisional roster for Copa America, meaning he still might take a leave from MNUFC later next month.

Player to watch: LAFC left winger Denis Bouanga — the reigning Golden Boot winner with 20 goals in 2023 — is off to strong start with eight goals in 14 games this year.

Prediction: Tapias should help tighten up the Loons’ back line coming out of Colorado, but LAFC’s firepower and strong home form make them such a huge betting favorite for a reason. LAFC in a 3-2 thriller.