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Minnesota United vs. Columbus preview: Home opener features MLS Cup champs

LOONS PREVIEW

1 p.m. Saturday vs. Columbus • Allianz Field

TV: Apple TV+ MLS Season Pass

Pregame reading: Loons' top-down youth movement is underway ahead of the home opener.

Jerry Zgoda's analysis:

Opening bell: The Loons play MLS Cup defending champion Columbus in their home opener at Allianz Field without four starters available. Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane, midfielder Robin Lod and left-side attacker Franco Fragapane are all out. Just like in last week's season-opening 2-1 victory at Austin, gaps in the usual 11 could create opportunities for Medina's Caden Clark and Costa Rican midfielder Alejandro Bran, who scored last Saturday's winning goal. ... It's new Loon Clark's first game at home in Minnesota. He has obtained 40 to 45 tickets for his fan club. "It's going to be a special day for me," he said. "I have a lot of family and friends coming to the game. I've been waiting for this for a while." … The Loons will use the second of four short-term contracts allowed to him to add forward Loïc Mesanvi, a Lakeville native, to the game roster after doing the same last week.

Watch him: The game reunites Columbus star midfielder Darlington Nagbe in his 13th MLS season with Loons interim head coach Cameron Knowles. The two worked together in Portland and won the 2015 MLS Cup together. Nagbe owns four MLS Cup rings — the 10th player in league history to win four titles — after last season's MLS Cup final at home over LAFC. He won two with Columbus and one each with Atlanta and the Timbers. "He's one of the best player this league has seen," Knowles said. "He has won wherever he's gone. He has had a long career already and he's still such an important player to their team, such an important player in the league."… Former Loon Christian Ramirez returns to Minnesota, where he played five seasons — three in the NASL, two in MLS — before he was traded to LAFC in 2018. He scored eight goals last season and two more in the playoffs in winning his first MLS Cup with the Crew.

Injuries: The Loons list Reynoso (knee), Fragapane (thigh), Lod (leg) and Hlongwane (game fitness) as out. Kervin Arriaga is available after missing last week. Columbus list defender Mohamed Farsi (lower leg) as out.

Forecast: The Loons' commitment to press higher up the field could get tested by the league champs.