Loons have growing list of 'what-if' results that could haunt come playoffs

·3 min read

Jul. 4—Minnesota United's home draw with San Jose on Saturday will be written in pen on the list of would have/could have/should have performances that might come back to bite the Loons when MLS Cup Playoffs seeding is finalized in November.

But Saturday's 2-2 tie against a club on a now-eight-game winless skid has competition in this category: MNUFC's 1-0 loss to expansion side Austin at Allianz Field on May 1; the Loons' 1-1 draw with then-last place Dallas in St. Paul on May 15; and Minnesota coughing up a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat at Colorado on May 8.

Through one-third of the 2021 season, Minnesota sits in sixth place in the Western Conference, falling one spot with LAFC's win late Saturday night. There's a logjam of seven clubs within three points, and that group falls on both sides of the playoff line.

The Loons might be playing the what-if game more often through the rest of July, starting with a repeat trip to fourth-place Colorado on Wednesday.

"We're just focusing on closing out this stretch against Colorado," Loons defender Chase Gasper said. "... Last time we were there, it left a bitter taste in our mouth (in) how it ended, so we are looking to write some wrongs there."

The Rapids had three players (Sam Vines, Kellyn Acosta and Jonathan Lewis) called into the U.S men's national team for the Gold Cup, so they could miss the midweek MLS game with the first group-stage game for the Americans coming next Sunday.

The Loons, meanwhile are close to full strength, with the status of captain center back Michael Boxall (groin) and winger Franco Fragapane (investigation) up in the air.

On Saturday, a heated Adrian Heath made two halftime substitutions, and the Loons manager said more players were deserving of the hook.

"The two that came off could find themselves unlucky because it could have been five or six the way we played," Heath said.

After halftime, the Loons came out firing with a handful of scoring chances, none better than Fragapane's left-footed shot from seven yards. It was baffling how it wasn't a goal; either JT Marcinkowski got his fingertips on it or the shot angled just wide off the post.

"Great chances, not difficult chances, great chances," Heath said. "But it's frustrating, yeah."

After the Rapids game midweek, the Loons welcome first-place Sounders to St. Paul for a nationally televised matinee on Sunday, July 18. After collapsing against Seattle in the Western Conference final last December, Minnesota gave up four second-half goals in a 4-0 defeat in the season opener April 16.

After that chance at some redemption, MNUFC faces two other foes near them in the standings: Portland at home on July 24 and on the road at LAFC on July 28.

In the full context of the first 11 games, Minnesota is sitting in an OK spot. The club's 0-4 start had them in the West basement through early May, and their current seven-game unbeaten streak has injected belief and expectation to not lose to teams beneath them in the table.

"Well, I didn't anticipate an 0-4 start, I'm going to be honest," Heath said. "But, since then, we've been very good. And we have to continue like that. If we play on the front foot, we're a really good team."

"If we drop it 10, 15 percent, then we're no different than anybody else," Heath added. "And I know I'm not talking about just my team there; that's this league."

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