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Minnesota United starts big week Wednesday at Salt Lake

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.

MLS: Houston Dynamo FC at Minnesota United FC
Head coach Adrian Heath looks on during the second half of the game against the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 27 at Allianz Field.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — Is Minnesota United great?

The Loons have amassed the most points in MLS since late June — 26 out of a possible 33 — with a 8-1-2 record, and manager Adrian Heath called it an unprecedented run in his coaching career.

But it’s all prelude to this, the home stretch of seven regular-season games before the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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. Then MNUFC returns to Allianz Field to play fourth-place FC Dallas (11-8-10) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

MORE MINNESOTA LOONS COVERAGE:
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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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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.
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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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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.

The Loons have 44 points to 43 for Dallas and 39 for RSL. Minnesota and RSL have each played 27 games; Dallas has played 29 and is idle midweek.

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“Everything is so tight in there,” Heath said of the Western Conference standings. “… Two really important games. If we could continue this run, then it would set up up nicely for the remaining schedule.”

Minnesota’s final five games include first-place LAFC, two clubs just outside the playoff field (Portland and Vancouver) and two near the Western Conference basement (Kansas City and San Jose).

Given the current stretch of three games in eight days, Heath said there will be some rotation to his lineup at Salt Lake, where it’s expected to be more than 90 degrees at kickoff. That’s on top of playing at altitude. The squad refresh is due to some players having heavy workloads and with one eye on Saturday’s home game.

RSL will be the first full game without Bakaye Dibassy, the mainstay center back lost to a season-ending quad injury in the 2-1 win over Houston on Saturday. Brent Kallman is expected to slot in next to Michael Boxall, but his backups Callum Montgomery (thigh) is out and Nabi Kibunguch (knee) is questionable.

Heath said Monday the club was not going to add a free agent before the roster freeze deadline Friday.

Left back Kemar Lawrence (knee) is also out for Wednesday’s game, but he was involved in training Tuesday in Minnesota and could return for Saturday against Dallas.

Minnesota is winless at RSL, going 0-3-1 since joining MLS in 2017, but beat Salt Lake 3-2 on July 3. MNUFC was in 11th place at the time, but has turned its season around since then. Now supporters will see if the Loons can hold their ground into early October.

Briefly

The MLS Cup Playoffs schedule was announced Tuesday: First round matchups will be Oct. 15-17, with doubleheaders that Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Conference semifinals will be doubleheaders on Thursday, Oct. 20 and Sunday, Oct. 23. Conference finals will both be Sunday, Oct. 30. MLS Cup will be the showcase on Saturday, Nov. 5.

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