Minnesota United is halfway there, and Bon Jovi had it right, because the Loons are living on a prayer.
The Loons’ 6 p.m. Wednesday match against Toronto FC is their 17th game of the 34-game MLS season, and their 16 points (5-10-1) place them ninth in the 12-team Western Conference. They need to make up at least six points to sneak into the last playoff spot at sixth.
Coach Adrian Heath doesn’t think that’s an insurmountable task.
“The West is still very open,” Heath said. “That sort of sixth, fifth spot will be open until the very end of the season because nobody’s streaking away. I think the top two or three positions will be sorted very early, but I think certainly five and six in the West will go until virtually the last few weeks of the season. Can we string out a two- or three-win sequence together, the table changes very, very quickly.”
At this point in the season last year, United had 18 points and was in 10th place in the 11-team Western Conference. By the end of the year, the Loons climbed up only one more spot to ninth.
Heath, though, said the numbers don’t tell the whole story for the Loons, winless in their past three MLS games.
“We are better than we were last year. Maybe that’s not shown in terms of points or victories, but I know as a club we are so much farther down the road then we were this time last year,” Heath said. “I know we are nowhere near the finished article. We’ve got a lot of things we need to improve on.”
Heath called the injury situation “a blow” for his team. Early in the year, United lost three of its starters likely for the season: midfielder Sam Cronin to concussions and attackers Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino to ACL tears. The team also has dealt with myriad shorter-term injuries, particularly at the outside back position.
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said his team can’t use the injury bug as an excuse, though.
“I’ve been part of teams where we’ve been in really bad spots, and then you go on a bit of a run, and all of a sudden, you’re second or third in the table,” Shuttleworth said. “In previous years, I’ve been on teams where we’ve lost seven games in a row and then went to the MLS Cup. I think in this league more than any other, if you can string together some results consecutively, you can find yourself moving up the table pretty quickly.”
The Loons haven’t won a game in regulation since a 2-0 victory over Montreal on May 26. Since then they have scored only three goals in five games (two were U.S. Open Cup matches), being shut out in three matches. While making the postseason isn’t completely out of the question, players are realistic about their chances.
“The way we started, we were a lot more hard to beat,” said right back Tyrone Mears, noting in-season additions of attackers Darwin Quintero and Alexi Gomez. “We just have to get that right balance and the right mix.
“But again, it’s still developing, this team. I don’t think you can expect a lot from this squad in terms of 100 percent finishing in the playoffs because we’re still growing,’’ Mears said. “I think, even if you look at the bench, a lot of the rookies, a lot of the guys who haven’t played. So the depth isn’t there, and you’ve got to have depth to compete in this league.”
United is actively looking to address that problem as soon as Tuesday, when the secondary transfer window opens.
“We’re a long way from being where we hope to be, but I’m optimistic that this group will grow with the additions of the next window, two or three players,” Heath said. “I’m optimistic for the second half of the season. I really am.”