When Minnesota United started its inaugural MLS season in historically bad fashion, losing its first two matches 5-1 and 6-1, not many would have expected the Loons to still be in playoff contention in October.
So while the Loons officially ended their far-off postseason hopes with Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City at TCF Bank Stadium, the focus had already shifted to next season’s possibilities.
“Obviously, guys are disappointed,” goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. “We know next year this has to improve. I think this year, obviously from the first couple of games, it’s improved a lot. So I have no doubt that it’ll continue in that direction. I think everybody knows that it has to. What we did in the beginning of the year won’t be acceptable for this club moving forward.”
United has two more matches left in 2017: 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Los Angeles Galaxy (7-17-8, 11th in the West) and Oct. 22 at the San Jose Earthquakes (12-14-6, eighth in the West). LA is also eliminated from the playoffs.
But center back Brent Kallman said just because this season is now a wash in terms of trophies doesn’t mean the Loons will check out for the rest of this season.
“You’ve got to finish strong. We’ve got two games left. We really want to keep the momentum going from the end of this year into next year. We’ve got to perform well these last two games. So the focus is going to turn right away into next week,” Kallman said. “We’re going to approach it the same way. We knew it was a long shot [to make the playoffs] coming into this game anyway, so now that we’re officially out, I don’t think it’s going to change our approach much. We’re still going to go in there and try and get three points and put on good performances.”
Shuttleworth said one of the trademarks of the Loons this season, proved yet again in the comeback draw Saturday, is how the group is “willing to fight” even when the odds are against it. And that will persist into these final matches.
“Every guy in this locker room is playing for something,” Shuttleworth said. “Whether that’s to be in the starting group next year or to make the team or whatever it is. Every player wants to show well. Just because we’re out of the playoffs doesn’t mean that we just throw it in and these two games are just going to be a walk-around. Guys’ jobs are on the line, and people are going to have to show up and play well.”
The Loons have certainly improved from their embarrassing start, holding steady at 10-16-6 for ninth in the Western conference, but coach Adrian Heath is seeking even more enhancements this offseason. That’s once these last two matches are in the books.
“After that, then we have to look at where we’re going to be for next year,” Heath said. “What are we going to do, where we need to improve, and give these great fans a team they can be proud of next year.”