ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United’s distributed glowing wristbands to the nearly 20,000 fans inside Allianz Field for the club’s first MLS Cup playoff match on Sunday, Oct. 20, but the lights have been out on the Loons attack for more than a month.
United attackers failed to score a goal for a five straight games, and in an uncharacteristic turn, their defense conceded twice to be bounced in a 2-1 loss by the L.A. Galaxy in the first round.
It was only Minnesota’s second loss in 18 MLS games in the new St. Paul stadium this season, and the Galaxy were the first road team to win in the playoffs this year. They will advance to play Los Angeles FC on Thursday.
The fifth-seeded Galaxy netted a gut-punch goal against the run of play when Sebastian Lletget beat Loons keeper Vito Mannone in the 71st minute. Jonathan dos Santos doubled the lead four minutes later with a shot from distance.
Fourth-seeded Minnesota pulled a goal back when central midfielder Jan Gregus scored from 19 yards out in the 87th minute. It was too little, too late.
The Loons had the upper hand for the open 70 minutes with the majority of possession and 12 shots but only one on goal, a header from defender Michael Boxall in the first half.
The Loons’ attackers extended its scoring drought to 457 minutes since winger Ethan Finlay scored late against Real Salt Lake on Sept. 15.
Angelo Rodriguez had a great chance to score on a header in the 56th minute, but couldn’t put it on frame. When he was subbed out in the the 67th minute, it solidified 12 straight games without a goal.
Loons’ high-priced winger Robin Lod continued to scuffle in his first few months in Minnesota. He had three errant shots, including one from eight yards out in the 23rd minute. It would have split the uprights if they remained after the St. Thomas-St. John’s college football game here Saturday.
The drought continued when Finlay rushed an open shot in the 53rd minute.
One saving grace was Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was just as off. When he had a bad touch out of bounds in the first half, Loons supporters gave him a sarcastic exaggerated cheer. When he whiffed on a shot in the second, they let him hear it again.
Loons’ pivotal attacking midfielder Darwin Quintero was out of the starting XI due to an illness he came down with Thursday. It kept him out of training Friday and was on the Loons bench Sunday.
The absence of Quintero in a big game harkened to the U.S. Open Cup final when, due to inconsistent play, he came off the bench in the 2-1 loss to Atlanta United.
Without Quintero, Kevin Molino started as the central attacking midfielder. Quintero subbed on in the 60th minute, with right wing Ethan Finlay coming out and Molino bumping out to the right.
Minnesota has not beat the Galaxy in MLS, falling to going 0-5-2 in the stretch.