The season is not over, Minnesota United FC players and coaches maintain.
But Saturday's 1-0 home loss to first-place New York pushes United closer to the brink. Minnesota entered the match tied for second, four points behind the North American Soccer League leading Cosmos.
United FC remains in a four-way tie for second place but the deficit is now seven points, a tougher hill to climb with four games remaining. A new playoff format this season dictates that Minnesota must win the Fall Season championship to advance to play Spring Season champion Atlanta.
"It's tough, but we've got four games left so we're not out of it," United coach Manny Lagos said. "It's going to take a lot of work."
Paulo Mendes scored in the 52nd minute as New York pushed its winning streak to four games. The Cosmos have gone unbeaten (5-0-2) since their last loss Aug. 17.
New York defeated Minnesota 1-0 in both meetings this season.
The first New York loss was Minnesota's only setback in its previous five games. Avenging the loss Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 3,629 at the National Sports Center in Blaine would have drawn Minnesota within one point of the top spot. Instead, the team took a step back.
"We had our moments where we played really well," Lagos said. "We still believed we were going to get one back and maybe get a winner."
Minnesota's best chances came within four minutes of Mendes' second half goal. Leading scorer Pablo Campos headed a pass from Mike Ambersley just over the crossbar. Moments later, in the 56th minute, Ambersley got alone behind the Cosmos defense but was met and stymied by goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.
"I should have finished the ball; my job is to score goals," Ambersley said. "I thought I could get around him, but he got a hand on it."
Ambersley said that his team "moved the ball as well as we have since I got here [via trade] in August" and that he plans to focus on the positives when training resumes Monday.
"You can't go into the next game thinking the season's over," Ambersley said. "You have to keep focused and try to win out."
The last time the Cosmos played at Minnesota was June 30, 1984, during the old NASL. The now-defunct Minnesota Strikers won 1-0 at the Metrodome. Winning Saturday on the road against a hungry team "showed a lot of maturity," New York coach Giovanni Savarese said.
"Today was a difficult game because Minnesota is a good team," Savarese said.