At least one Loons supporter put a request in writing going into last weekend’s game against L.A. Galaxy: “We strongly encourage our team to score goals,” read a simple black-and-white sign hung up in the supporters section at Allianz Field.
Minnesota United delivered in a 3-0 win last Saturday — the club’s first three-goal game of the season. It came on the heels of what winger Ethan Finlay called an “embarrassing” 4-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.
“Felt like this group needed a little bit of validation,” Finlay said Thursday. Minnesota had been shutout in four of the previous six games and fallen out of the Western Conference playoff spots.
With the return of goal creators Robin Lod and Emanuel Reynoso, Minnesota (9-8-7) got a key victory, took an MLS Cup Playoffs spot back and looks to turn it into a mini winning streak against Houston Dynamo (5-10-11) at 7 p.m. Saturday in St. Paul.
Saturday will be the first home game with fans in attendance against former Loons designated player Darwin Quintero, who was traded away after the 2019 season.
Quintero, who is tied for the Loons’ all-time lead with 21 regular-season goals, will be motivated against his former club. He has played only 453 minutes for Houston this season, but has been a spark in recent games. He is coming off his first goal of the season, a penalty kick in a 3-2 win over FC Dallas last Saturday.
Quintero has scored in two previous games against Minnesota in Houston, both in the 2020 season. While he can be a dynamic offensive player, the 34-year-old Colombian was let go from United, in part, because he would check out defensively. If he does so Saturday, that could provide an opportunity for the Loons.
Quintero’s guaranteed compensation for 2021 is $1.35 million, according to MLS Players Association figures, a huge sum for one goal thus far. That’s roughly $350,000 more than the Loons’ highest-paid player, Reynoso, who is making $966,910, per MLSPA.
The Loons are expected to integrate a new second team within MLS’ inception of a lower-tier league starting next season. United is determining where that team will be based and where they will play home games.
“We are really optimistic that will be sorted next year, which will be great for all the young players,” Heath said.
Outgoing CEO Chris Wright wasn’t as committed to this being the plan earlier this season.
With the second team comes the need for more players. Minnesota has had a handful of young players going across the U.S. on short-term loans; they would figure to be a part of the club’s expanded operations in the lower-level pro league.
Loons fourth-string goalkeeper Fred Emmings, along with Patrick Weah, Ariel Jackson, Nabi Kibunguchy and others figure to be prime candidates.
In the meantime, the club is exploring options for Emmings, a 17-year-old from St. Paul, to train for a few weeks with an English Premier League side.
Mukwelle Akale continues to train with the Loons this season. The 24-year-old Minneapolis native, who has played in leagues in Spain and Cyprus, also could be in the mix for a spot on the Loons’ second team in 2022.
This week’s announcement of an expanded Leagues Cup between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX came as a surprise to officials with the MLS Players’ Association, Finlay said. They will wait for more information on the format — and the corresponding demands on players’ time — when they become available before it kicks off in 2023. … Midfielders Hassani Dotson (knee), Jan Gregus (foot) and Justin McMaster (thigh) have been rehabbing their injuries this week and won’t be in the mix Saturday. Juan Agudelo and Niko Hansen returned to full training this week and should be available for the Loons against the Dynamo. … The Loons have not lost to Houston in Minnesota in MLS (3-0-2), allowing only three goals. … It will be interesting to see if Amos Magee, Loons director of player personnel, is in the mix for a vacant general manager position in MLS. Houston has one. San Jose reportedly has four finalists, but Magee was not in that pool. Magee was interviewed for the D.C. United GM position last spring. … The Loons continue to negotiate with goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s side on a new contract. Minnesota has locked up the two other players from their strong 2019 draft class: midfielder Hassani Dotson (three years) and fullback Chase Gasper (four years). Both of those deals start next season. … With five assists in nine games, winger Franco Fragapane is second in the MLS in assists per game (0.56). … The Loons have an array of events and touches for Saturday’s Hispanic Heritage game.