Much like in Minnesota United’s most recent home match, the stars seem to be aligning in the Loons’ favor.
When the team recorded its first win April 1, opponent Real Salt Lake was missing a key piece and had defensive adversity. When the team sees the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, those two factors will be in play again.
Salt Lake still had an interim coach on the bench after a firing three matches into the season, and an in-match injury left the team with only one center back. Colorado’s absence and defensive hardship will be one in the same, as goalkeeper Tim Howard will serve the second match of a three-match suspension.
The league suspended and fined Howard, a veteran U.S. national team member, late Friday because of an altercation he had with a fan after his team’s 3-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City on April 9. Without him in goal, Colorado lost 2-1 to Salt Lake on Saturday, ending a 19-match regular-season home undefeated streak and handing the Rapids their first loss at home since 2015, before Howard joined the team. Colorado (1-3-1) is winless in its past four matches.
United, on the other hand, is on an upward tick heading into a homestand.
“We’ve got three home games now,” coach Adrian Heath said. “And if we can put a couple of good performances out, like we did against Salt Lake at home, and maybe get a couple of wins, then the league table will look a lot different.”
At 1-4-2, the Loons are above Colorado in the standings. And after a slow start to the season, United has looked promising in its past three matches: a 4-2 win against Salt Lake, an unlucky 2-0 loss at powerhouse FC Dallas and a come-from-behind 2-2 draw at the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
And considering United’s first positive result of the season came from a 2-2 draw at Colorado on March 18 — and United now sports Colorado’s former starting left back, Marc Burch, and captain, midfielder Sam Cronin, in its own lineup after a March 31 trade — another home win is not unrealistic.
But United might be without starting goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and midfielder Rasmus Schuller, who both left the Houston match in the first half because of injuries — a head laceration and possible concussion for Shuttleworth and a hip flexor for Schuller.
But the challenge for United will be putting together a complete match. While the team went nearly a full half before giving up the first goal against Dallas, two defensive mistakes and a strong performance from Dallas’ keeper were factors in the Loons’ downfall. At Houston, United failed to capitalize on first-half scoring opportunities and again allowed preventable goals before turning around in the second half.
“We’ve just got to put together 90 minutes,” forward Christian Ramirez said in a statement. “[Against Houston], we put together a good 60, with a lull for both goals, and that’s stuff that we have to clean up. But as we get more time together and incorporate the guys who we just got, those results will turn our way.”