A month ago, Minnesota United was one of the hottest teams in MLS. With 28 points in 15 games, they were sailing along at a pace that would have won the Western Conference in three of the preceding four seasons.

The Loons' record since then, though, shows just how much of a hole has been blown in the side of what was a promising voyage: Six games, zero wins, just one point.

There are a number of different causes for the swoon, which Minnesota will try to end Sunday night in Los Angeles against the powerhouse LA Galaxy, but many of them end up pointing back to one underlying root cause: Copa America is killing this team.

Minnesota sent four players to the Pan-American international tournament: starting goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and center forward Tani Oluwaseyi (Canada), and backup midfielders Carlos Harvey (Panama) and Alejandro Bran (Costa Rica). Neither Canada nor Panama was favored to make it past the group stage, but both did, meaning the pain has lingered even longer than expected. Canada is still alive, having beaten Venezuela to make the semifinals.

Only two other teams in MLS lost four players for Copa América and the European Championship, and neither is faring much better. Philadelphia, like Minnesota, has lost five games in a row; Montréal has two draws and one win — the sole victory coming against Philly.

Without its starting goalkeeper, Minnesota's shot-stopping has gone from a strength to a struggle. Lack of depth in the midfield has arguably caused numerous issues, from makeshift lineups with players out of position, all the way down to Wil Trapp's hamstring injury, one that was potentially exacerbated by his overloaded workload.

And up front, the team is desperately missing Oluwaseyi — especially since the team's other first-rate striker, Teemu Pukki, was injured on international duty with Finland.

The two forwards' absence was never more obvious than on Wednesday against Vancouver. Even coach Eric Ramsay, usually determined not to use absences as an excuse, couldn't entirely mask his frustration with a team that took 14 shots in the penalty area but landed just four on target. Asked to explain the finishing issues, he said, "You can also put pretty cleanly on the table [the fact that] that we are missing our number 9s at the moment."

If you trace the issues back to the international absences, though, you have to keep on unraveling the threads and ask: Why did MLS, the league in the country that's playing host to Copa America, keep on plugging away during the tournament?

After all, the last time Copa America was held in the United States, in 2016, the league took a complete break for the group stage. It did almost the same thing for the 2014 World Cup, the last time the USA or Canada was in a summer World Cup; that year, there was only one match during the group stage, and it was between two Canadian teams.

This year, though, MLS decided it couldn't spare 2½ weeks out of the schedule, and a glance at the August schedule shows the reason why: the league has a huge chunk of the summer carved out for its own Leagues Cup tournament.

The tournament, which throws all 47 MLS and Liga MX teams into a tournament with a group stage followed by a 32-team knockout round, was surprisingly popular last summer with both fans and players, the first time in its expanded format. It was an entertaining summer diversion, one that served as a showcase for the newly arrived Lionel Messi, who lifted the trophy with Inter Miami.

That said, Minnesota United doesn't have an MLS game scheduled this season between July 20 and Aug. 24. They do have two games in Leagues Cup group stage scheduled the last week of July, but should they lose those, they will have nearly four full weeks with nothing on the calendar.

MLS loves a chance to put itself on equal footing with Liga MX, the most storied league on the continent, and it loves having a showpiece tournament to hand to its broadcast partners. But taking a month out of the season meant that the league couldn't afford the time to break during Copa America, a decision that's come at the cost of sinking several teams along the way — including the Loons.

Summers have always been for international soccer, something that only affects places with winters too harsh to allow year-round schedules. Some will suggest that MLS switch to playing in the winter, as European leagues do — but ask any of the frostbitten players from the misbegotten February 2022 U.S. men's national team qualifier at Allianz Field whether winter soccer is a good idea for Minnesota.

In future years, either the league will have to find a way to play more wintertime games solely in the cities where it's not too frozen to do so, or they will need to trim back the Leagues Cup to accommodate international soccer. The only other option is the one we've seen this summer, a harsh choice that's made the Loons and their fans suffer: letting the affected teams drown.