Once Minnesota United takes the pitch Saturday, its three-week MLS hiatus will be over and the stakes ramp up immediately.
The Loons are in the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 6-7-3 record. Two teams are right behind them as United embarks on the second half of the season with a 3 p.m. Saturday match against FC Cincinnati at Allianz Field.
It’s back to the playoff push for the Loons. There’s extra motivation for Adrian Heath’s squad, considering it has yet to reach the MLS postseason.
United left off MLS play with a three-game losing streak, a funk that saw it outscored 7-2. On June 8 a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids, with the worst record in the Western Conference, left a bitter taste as the Loons entered their break.
Since then the perfect remedy as the team picked up U.S. Open Cup victories over Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo.
“We were excellent against Sporting Kansas City and incredible for 45 minutes against Houston Dynamo,” Heath said. “I expect us to carry on exactly the same way. I don’t care about the opposition or what other people say.”
United scored seven goals between the two U.S. Open Cup games. Forward Darwin Quintero broke out of a slump, scoring four goals between the two contests. Angelo Rodriguez had one goal and three assists.
Through the losses and the tournament play, the team’s confidence hasn’t wavered, defender Michael Boxall said.
“I don’t think our confidence has been rising because I don’t think our confidence has taken a big hit,” Boxall said. “We know when we stick to the way we play, we’re going to get results and that showed in recent weeks.”
That brings up FC Cincinnati, at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings at 3-12-2. The club is in its first season in the MLS, struggling through the transition up a league, much like the Loons did in 2017.
Cincinnati fired coach Alan Koch on May 9 after a 2-7-2 start. It has a record of 1-5-0 since interim coach Yoann Damet took over.
That doesn’t mean the Loons can rest, according to goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
“I’ve been in that situation where you’re struggling,” Mannone said. “Sometimes you’re looking for that match to turn the corner. We are aware of the danger, the danger can come from the best game of their lives.”
Unlike United, which is bringing back players who had been missing because of international duty and injuries, Cincinnati is in the opposite scenario. Key player Fanendo Adi is listed as questionable with an injured hamstring. Another, Kendall Waston, will be missing due to international play with Costa Rica.
The Loons are working back to full strength, getting Kevin Molino and Rasmus Schuller back from international duty. The only piece missing is Madagascar international Romain Metanire, the newly appointed MLS All-Star. Forward Abu Danladi and midfielder Collin Martin are listed as out.
While the Loons face a hectic schedule in the next few weeks, they’re honed back in on making the MLS playoffs in their third year of play.
“We’ve got to approach the game in exactly the same manner,” Heath said. “If we play with our same intensity that we have been doing at home, I think we’ll be fine. If we don’t, I’ve got no worries in my mind that it’s going to be a long 90 minutes. That’s the way football is, that’s the way it always is.”