Back before Minnesota United earned its first Major League Soccer victory on April 1, coach Adrian Heath called it “probably the most important game in this club’s history.”
Almost four months later, that statement might be more apt for Wednesday night’s match against the Houston Dynamo.
The Loons play Houston in the first of four home matches in 17 days, and considering United’s home record (5-4-1) vastly outshines its road record (0-7-2) — and the fact United is on the road for eight of its final 11 regular-season contests after this stint — a win against the Dynamo would keep United’s playoff goals in sight.
Coach Adrian Heath stressed the importance of the homestand this week, knowing his team’s hopes are more desperate than most. The Loons (5-11-3) are last in the Western Conference, six points out of playoff contention, and second-to-last overall in the league in front of only D.C. United.
“I know far more about this group than I did even three months ago, and this group is capable of competing,” Heath said. “… Because with everybody fit, I think we can compete. But certainly our home form has been pivotal to all of that, so the next [four] games are vital for us.”
D.C. is one of the teams United will face in this homestand, along with the New York Red Bulls and the Seattle Sounders FC, who are seventh in the East and West, respectively, one spot out of playoff position.
“Mathematically, as long as it’s possible,” defender Jerome Thiesson said of United’s playoff aspirations. “That’s what we chase every game.”
Winger Miguel Ibarra said the team has analyzed making the playoffs in this inaugural season and is making “a big push for it” in the latter half of the season, starting with trying to claim 12 points in these four home matches.
While United is starting this stretch against the toughest opponent in Houston (8-7-4), the Loons have had success against the Dynamos. On April 15, United grabbed a 2-2 draw at Houston, which has the second-best home record (8-0-2) in the league.
Ibarra said in that draw, United did a good job of working in behind Houston’s back line and giving forward Christian Ramirez great scoring opportunities. Ibarra came on as a substitute in that match after an injury and solidified his starting spot. He said his confidence returned in that match.
The whole team actually felt a bit like Ibarra did after that tie, winning two of its next three matches in a three-match homestand. Wednesday night at TCF Bank Stadium, the Loons will look to make the rematch against Houston another turning point.
“Overall, I think that’s when the team started really looking up right after that game,” Ibarra said. “We knew that we had a good team, and I think if we come out the same as how we did that game, I think we’ll get a good result.”