SEATTLE – Dictator of its own destiny Sunday on MLS’ season-ending Decision Day, Minnesota United needed a gift from an old friend to secure a first-round playoff game back home at Allianz Field.
United’s 1-0 loss at Seattle to a Sounders team it hasn’t beaten in its three MLS seasons prevented it from clinching second place and quite possibly two home playoff games. But on a day when all 24 teams played at the same time, former Loons star Christian Ramirez scored two goals to help Houston beat L.A. Galaxy 4-2.
United’s loss, Real Salt Lake’s victory over Vancouver and L.A. Galaxy’s road loss dropped the Loons from second place to fourth in an afternoon, but it all sends them back in two weeks to play superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy in United’s new stadium, where it lost just once this regular season.
Thanks to the Dynamo and Ramirez, who once played “Superman” to teammate Miguel Ibarra’s “Batman” before he was traded last season.
United coach Adrian Heath was asked if his team will send Ramirez something nice for helping it out.
“We will do,” Heath said. “He has always looked after us, Chris. Nice bottle of wine due in the post.”
That exchange was as lighthearted as Heath got on a sunny afternoon on which 47,297 fans came to see Sunday’s battle for second place and former Sounders star Ozzie Alonso’s return to Seattle, where he played a decade.
Seattle defender Roman Torres scored the game’s only goal on a stretching header in the 29th minute. Heath afterward repeatedly called himself “disappointed” but also talked big picture.
“I don’t think we did ourselves justice enough today, considering what was at stake for us,” Heath said. “We huffed and puffed a lot. But I have to look at our body of work in a 10-month period. To be where we are now and get a home-field game in the playoffs, we’ll take a lot of satisfaction in that. But right now, my overriding feeling is more disappointment.”
Heath started veteran Angelo Rodriguez over young striker Mason Toye and turned to vet Ethan Finlay and rookie Hassani Dotson in a starting 11 against an opponent that has made the playoffs the past 11 seasons.
The closest United came to countering Torres’ first MLS goal was Finlay’s shot in all alone on goalkeeper Stefan Frei that hit the left post in the 39th minute.
“Disappointing,” Finlay said, echoing Heath’s refrain. “I expect to put that chance away every single time.”
United now will meet a Galaxy team to which it lost 3-2 in March in Los Angeles and played to a scoreless tie at Allianz in April.
“It’s big to get a home game and give our fans one more chance to roar us on,” United defender Ike Opara said. “Missed opportunity to maybe play multiple games at home? Sure. But the guys gave ourselves a chance to get a result. This is a taste of a playoff game, to be honest.”
Finlay said he believes his team can beat anybody at Allianz Field “and on the road, too” after it went 3-2 to start the season with five road games and beat Supporter’s Shield winner LAFC 2-0 there in September.
“The start of the year, people were just talking about seventh or eighth, right?” Finlay said. “Were we going to make the playoffs or not? Now we’re hosting and we’re right there in the mix. A lot of people thought we outperformed this year, but we still have aspirations of going farther. We’re not just content with having a home playoff game and playing one game.
“I really believe that and that was the message to this group sent after the game: We’re going to make a run.”