The Columbus Crew entered the MLS is Back Tournament as an afterthought by many to win it, but after recording shutout victories in their first three matches, they have become the favorite in the view of one coach.
"Well, we probably won't turn up because everybody's crowned them champions already, so we'll give it to them," Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath joked.
It so happens the Loons (3-0-2, 11 points) play the Crew (4-0-1, 13 points) in a Round of 16 knockout match on Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, so it's not above him to build up the opponent.
Heath has reasons to be impressed. The Crew breezed through Group E by outscoring FC Cincinnati, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United by a combined 7-0 while battling injuries.
The three consecutive shutouts are the Crew's longest streak since May 2018, but coach Caleb Porter is wary of Minnesota.
"Everybody knows they're a good team," he said. "This is the best team we've played so far this season. It's going to be a great match, and that's what you want."
The Crew lost defender Vito Wormgoor (ankle) for the tournament during the first game. Goalkeeper Eloy Room (hamstring) probably will miss his second straight match, and midfielder Youness Mokhtar scored the lone goal vs. Atlanta before exiting with a leg injury. He is questionable for Tuesday.
Also, Columbus midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who has three goals and two assists in five games this season, is hampered by a leg injury but could be available.
Minnesota will have midfielder Kevin Molino (hamstring) back after he sat the match against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday.
"Kevin's a really dynamic player," Minnesota midfielder Ethan Finlay said.
The Loons have been without 2019 MLS Defender of the Ike Opara for the tournament because of a pre-existing condition.
Either Columbus or Minnesota will advance to the quarterfinals to play the winner of the Monday night match featuring the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake.
--Field Level Media