For all the attention Minnesota United has generated as one of the hottest teams in MLS the past month, the Loons must stay grounded, according to defender Ike Opara.
The Loons are in a stretch where offense has come easy while the defense has slowed the opposition. The performance has led to confidence-boosting wins in the middle of a playoff push. But Opara cautions it’s nowhere near the Loons’ peak.
“We haven’t played a complete 90 minutes yet,” Opara said last week. “We’ve had a couple lulls in some games. I think we’re getting there. I’ve seen a lot of positives.”
Opara, the 2017 MLS defender of the year, knows what it takes to be a winner. During his time with Sporting Kansas City, he won the 2013 MLS Cup, along with the 2015 and 2017 U.S. Open Cup titles. There’s a certain feeling and expectation that comes with winning — especially while weathering the grind of the MLS season.
It’s why Opara has stressed to his team to stay emotionally in control during the playoff push. Getting too high leads to adversity and a rude awakening. But a little confidence is appropriate, because the Loons have been winning, he said.
“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you are,” Opara said. “We need to have a realistic approach to who we are as a team, and I think we’re getting there.”
Coach Adrian Heath fielded a full starting lineup of his best players against New Mexico United on Wednesday, but the 6-1 blowout also meant he could rest some of them ahead of Saturday’s match. He said earlier in the week that he anticipated one or two changes in the starting lineup, and he settled for one.
Ethan Finlay, after being replaced by Kevin Molino in the last game, was back among the starting 11. Miguel Ibarra was rotated to depth duty.
Madagascar’s dream run through the Africa Cup of Nations ended when it lost to Tunisia 3-0 in the quarterfinals on Thursday. It means, though, that MLS All-Star Romain Metanire will soon be rejoining the Loons.
The plan is for Metanire to return on Sunday, Heath said. However, the Loons will give the defender a few days off before he formally rejoins training.
“He’s had seven or eight weeks of high-intense training, incredible games,” Heath said. “I imagine mentally more than physically he’s drained.”