Sputtering Loons can lock in MLS Cup Playoffs as soon as this weekend
A win against San Jose on Saturday secures Minnesota United a playoff spot
ST. PAUL — Minnesota United has the easiest remaining schedule among clubs surrounding them in the MLS Western Conference playoff race, but for the Loons, nothing has been easy lately.
Case in point: MNUFC’s 4-1 loss at 13th-place Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 17.
The Loons hold the seventh and final West spot for the MLS Cup Playoffs going into their penultimate game at last-place San Jose at 9 p.m. Saturday, followed by a visit to St. Paul from 10th-place Vancouver on Decision Day, Oct. 9.
“We always said playoffs were the minimum requirement, and can we get a home-field advantage?” manager Adrian Heath said Thursday. “With two games to go, that’s still available.”
Minnesota knows if it wins, it is in the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Lose or draw and the Loons will need help.
Here are the two most straight forward avenues for MNUFC to clinch a playoff spot this weekend: If the Loons win, they need Real Salt Lake to lose or tie L.A. Galaxy. If RSL wins, Minnesota needs Portland to lose to Los Angeles FC.
The Loons can clinch if they draw against San Jose, but that scenario needs more factors to line up in their favor.
Minnesota must mind its own business; the Loons have captured one point in the last 15 available (0-4-1) and need to stop a leaky defense from letting one goal become two, then three in quick succession, and on the other side, find scoring in any sort of volume.
“It’s getting back to basics: one v. one defending, winning duels, defending the box and having pride in those moments and being proud of what we are putting together as a team in terms of defensive shape,” captain midfielder Wil Trapp said. “That’s what we need to recover back to. When we do that well, we are a very difficult team to beat. We win the ball high and we have tons of quality in the front half of the team.”
The Loons will need to ride playmaker Emanuel Reynoso, who the club announced this week has signed a new three-year contract. When Reynoso provides a goal or assist, Minnesota is 25-5-5 across all competitions.
When the Loons reached the West final in 2020, they did it on the back of Reynoso.
“We know they’re two finals and we depend only on ourselves,” Reynoso said through team translator Gabriela Lozada.
MNUFC will likely have to do it without integral midfielder Robin Lod. The Finn missed the SKC game with a calf injury, but participated in part of Tuesday’s training session with the aim of joining in Wednesday and Thursday if he didn’t have an issue. However, he was not in training those days and is officially listed as questionable.
“If it’s not 100%, he won’t play,” Heath said.
When Heath has said a version of this statement in the past, that player doesn’t play.
The Loons had four players return from international duty. Michael Boxall (New Zealand) joined in training Wednesday and Thursday. Kervin Arriaga and Joseph Rosales (Honduras) participated on Thursday. Dayne St. Clair (Canada) has met the team in California.
Final home-field spot:
4. Nashville, 47
Remaining games: vs. 13th-place Houston; at 1st-place LAFC
On road in playoffs:
5. L.A. Galaxy, 46
Remaining games: vs. 8th RSL; at 14th Houston
6. Portland, 46
Remaining games: vs. 1st LAFC; at 8th RSL
7. MNUFC, 45
Remaining games: at 14th San Jose; vs. at 10th Vancouver
Out of playoff field:
8. Real Salt Lake, 43
Remaining games: vs. 5th LAG; vs. 6th Portland
9. Seattle, 40
Remaining games: at 12th Kansas City; vs. 14th San Jose
10. Vancouver, 40
Remaining games: vs. 2nd Austin; at 7th Minnesota
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