Minnesota United have defied expectations this season. While many league fans and longtime Minnesota supporters felt a surge of optimism at the beginning of the season, it often felt like a hollow confidence. That changed when the Loons shook off their inability to win on the road opening 2019 with five away matches and taking nine points from a possible fifteen. Of course, the team quickly came back down to Earth limping along with only three wins from April 13th to June 8th. Success was found in the US Open Cup during this time, and the Loons are on the brink of winning its first ever trophy of its MLS era.
Supporters are right to be excited for the team, but it is clearly punching above its weight. Minnesota United’s defense is vastly improved even with the ongoing liability that is Michael Boxall; the attacking core is dangerous notwithstanding it won’t have a single striker near double digit goals by season’s end (DP Angelo Rodriguez continues to be a major bust); and the central midfield is one of the strongest in the league thanks in no small part to the exceptional play of Jan Gregus. Despite manager Adrian Heath’s continued insistence on stolid tactics and obsession with marginalizing certain high-performing players, the team finds a way.
We saw this in the stunning undefeated streak from June 29th to August 4th putting the Loons as high as second place in the Western Conference. Minnesota United has risen, but can it maintain its position? Or is the team going to come crashing down like Icarus?
It would be hubris to assume it will make the playoffs. To close out the season, the Loons will be facing some of the best teams in its conference. The entire season comes down to the month of September. I would contend the Loons need at least 46 points (likely more) to make the playoffs. Come September 1st, Minnesota United might find itself in 7th place in the Western Conference and barely holding on to the last playoff spot.
Worst case scenario over the weekend could Minnesota drop quickly in the standings. Seattle defeating Portland on Friday dropped Minnesota to third place in the conference. Today (Saturday, August 24). if Real Salt Lake and San Jose win, then the Loons will drop to fourth. On Sunday, it’s very likely FC Dallas defeat Houston (arguably the worst road team in the league) and in doing so move into a playoff position just two points behind Minnesota. The ‘Battle for Los Angeles’ between the LA Galaxy and LAFC, also on Sunday, could see the Galaxy once again defeat the best team in the league. Doing so would push Minnesota down to fifth.
There is hope for Loons supporters. San Jose is in terrible form having lost its last three matches, Real Salt Lake is enduring a coaching upheaval, Houston’s interim manager Davy Arnaud could inspire a change of fortune, and LAFC may very well extend its winning streak to six matches.
When Minnesota United take the field on September 1st to face the best team in Major League Soccer, LAFC, it could find itself sitting in seventh place barely holding on to the last playoff spot in the conference.
It feels very much that every match remaining for the Loons is a must-win.