Minnesota United must stop slide if it wants to make MLS Cup Playoffs
After a slow start, the Loons ascended to be one of the league’s best through late August, netting 26 out of the next 33 points during that stretch.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United’s season has been a rollercoaster and the Loons are now in danger of being thrown off the ride all together.
MNUFC was one of the worst teams in MLS through most of May and June, earning only four of a possible 24 points in that span. But in whiplash fashion, the Loons ascended to be one of the league’s best through late August, netting 26 out of the next 33 points during that stretch.
They’ve turned down again, scoreless in three straight defeats, and are in danger of being left out. They have fallen from third place in the Western Conference to sixth with four games to play, only four points away from missing out on the MLS Cup Playoffs entirely.
“When you get to this stage of the season, where every point is crucial, obviously, it has an effect on your mindset of thinking, ‘How are we doing?’ ” Loons manager Adrian Heath said. “But I think you’ve heard me say on numerous occasions, I’m more of a performance man.”
Heath and captain Wil Trapp don’t see the sky falling. They point to “five minutes of madness” that resulted in three Dallas goals in a 3-0 loss Sept. 3. There were two isolated defensive breakdowns and no breakthroughs offensively despite plenty of scoring chances in the 1-0 loss to Portland Timbers on Saturday.
Heath showed the players a lot of the positives they had in the previous two games on Monday morning. “We had 180 minutes, but apart from a mad five minutes, we’ve been the best team,” he said Monday. “We’ve been better than Dallas and we’ve been better than Portland. If we can put up a performance like we’ve done in the last two games, going into this game, I will be delighted.”
MNUFC (13-12-5, 44 points) face Los Angeles FC (19-8-3, 60) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Allianz Field. LAFC still sits in first place, but has lost four of its past five games.
Minnesota has been prone to defensive lapses in the past three games, and LA’s Cristian Arango has feasted on any sort of opening. He has 16 goals on the season, including four in the past four matches.
“The best players, they never switch off,” Heath said. “They are forever looking where the defenders are.”
In addition to Arango, LAFC boasts Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale.
Trapp said it’s about realizing that those small moments can change entire games. “I think that is something we are trying to stress among the leadership group of the team,” he said.
Trapp said he felt he should have been more assertive in the Dallas match to keep the damage to only one goal and not let it become three.
“It’s about understanding that encouragement and those things are important,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about grabbing (the opportunity) with two hands and how do you bring that out of the team and really, at times, lose your mind to get everyone in their right frame of mind.”
After missing the Portland loss, MLS All-Star Emanuel Reynoso trained on his injured ankle Monday, and if it doesn’t swell up and have increased pain Tuesday morning, the Argentine is expected to play.
If Reynoso can’t go, look for MNUFC to use the 3-5-2 formation that created chances against Portland.
“We have a big one (Tuesday),” Trapp said. “Whether it looks pretty, it’s about winning the game.”
LAFC lost its appeal of a red card given to fullback Ryan Hollingshead in Saturday’s loss to Dallas, so he will be suspended for Tuesday’s match in St. Paul. … Franco Fragapane will serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation on Tuesday. He will be eligible for Saturday’s game at Sporting K.C. … Loons winger Bongi Hlongwane (knee) is expected to be out 4-6 weeks, meaning he will miss the rest of the regular season and possibly the playoffs, Heath said. … MNUFC2 forward Loic Mesanvi and Tani Oluwaseyi scored their first MLS NEXT Pro goals in a 4-2 win over Portland Timbers 2 on Sunday. Aziel Jackson scored his 10th goal of the season and Nabi Kibunguchy netted his fourth.
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