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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.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers
Minnesota United defender Brent Kallman (14) clears the ball away from Portland Timbers midfielder Yimmi Chara (23) during the second half Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Soobum Im / USA Today Sports
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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.”

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MLS: Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers
Minnesota United forward Mender Garcia (28) attempts to move the ball past Portland Timbers goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic during the first half Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Portland, Oregon.
Soobum Im / USA Today Sports

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.

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Without him, the Loons are clinging to one of the final playoff spots with two games remaining.
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With Minnesota’s playoff positioning slipping in three straight scoreless losses, a goal and a point will be precious. But they lost points from a winning position at home.
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Reynoso, who has a team-high 10 goals, tweaked his right ankle before halftime of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to FC Dallas.
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Third-place Minnesota (13-9-5) travels to sixth-place Real Salt Lake (10-8-9) for an 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
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Matt Navratil, a 26-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota, is a diehard Loons fan and a season-ticket holder who travels with his parents, Scott and Chris, to a few road games each season.
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The Loons dealt with a steady stream of pressure, but made the most of their few opportunities to take all three points on the road.
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One of Dayne St. Clair’s first soccer memories is from roughly 20 years ago with him juggling a plastic balloon at his grandmother’s home in the Toronto area. The young Canadian wasn’t yet good enough with his feet to keep a heavier soccer ball aloft; he needed an inflatable orb that would hang in the air a bit longer.
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After signing a 2½-year contract with MNUFC through the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025, the 28-year-old Paraguayan has played in three games — an international friendly versus Everton, plus coming off the bench in two MLS games, wins over Houston and Portland.
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Minnesota United is 6-2-0 this season when he has a goal or assist, including four wins amid their current six-game unbeaten streak.
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Miller began the 2022 season as the Loons’ starter, allowing one goal apiece in a pair 1-1 draws into early March, but the 29-year-old New Jersey native fell ill before the third match and hasn’t played in MLS in nearly five months.

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.

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“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.”

Briefly

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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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA LOONS
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