So much is so new for Minnesota United and the other 23 remaining teams in this MLS is Back tournament, which is headed toward the last of three group-play games.
Nasal swabbing for coronavirus. Odd 9 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. starting times. Sequestered life in an Orlando resort hotel. Modified substitution rules that allow five players swapped, which is two more than usual.
And then there’s what to do with all this stoppage play at both first half and game’s end, now that there are extra water breaks based on temperature during games to counter the Florida summer heat.
Loons fans know it well after their team scored twice in eight extra stoppage minutes and beat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 in Sunday’s tournament opener.
“The more we play, the better for us and the more chances we have to win the game,” Loons midfielder Jan Gregus said in a video conference call after Friday night’s scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake.
San Jose scored in the eighth minute of second-half stoppage times to beat Vancouver on Wednesday, after the Earthquakes trailed 3-1 as late as the 71st minute.
Loons coach Adrian Heath was asked in a video call a day before Friday’s late game, which ended well after midnight, if extra stoppage time is just one more variable that adds excitement and the unknown.
“It was for us and it certainly was [for San Jose], wasn’t it?” Heath said. “It’s another part. You’re looking at the clock and you see 90 minutes and then you see 10 more going up. That becomes a little bit of a shock to your system because mentally in your head, you think of 90 minutes all the time. You’re going to have to play to the final whistle. When you see 90, don’t get desperate because there could be anything from another 7 to 10 minutes left.”
Minnesota United’s Robin Lod may have had Friday’s best scoring chance when his left-footed strike hit the crossbar in stoppage time’s sixth minute right before halftime.
Only three stoppage minutes were added at the end of the second half, not nearly as many as in Sunday’s game with its 7 p.m. start. But Loons goalkeeper Tyler Miller said players welcome the breaks.
“It’s something we need right now,” Miller said by video call after Friday’s game. “We haven’t play 90 minutes in four months. So to expect players to be fully fit to play a full 90 minutes and perform well, especially in these conditions … It obviously adds a lot of minutes at the end of the game, but it’s something that’s needed throughout the game.”
He’ll take it
The Loons are tied with Real Salt Lake for the Group D lead, each with a 1-0-1 record. The Loons are 3-0-1 for 10 points in MLS standings after two victories in March, Sunday’s comeback victory and Friday’s draw.
They can advance to the knockout round by beating Colorado on Wednesday.
“If you said to me we’d have 10 points after four games, I would have settled for that, for sure,” Heath said.
Striker Luis Amarilla substituted into Friday’s game in the 67th minute. He didn’t play Sunday after tweaking his groin during warmups.
Aaron Schoenfeld started instead.
“He didn’t feel as though he could have gone 90 [minutes],” Heath said. “It was important to give him some time to get his body going again.
‘‘I don’t want to burden him too much and give him too many minutes, but it was important to get some time on the field.”
• Uruguayan teenager Thomas Chacon subbed in at halftime, his first MLS game since he started at Houston in September. “We’re going to need all these players,” Heath said. “He showed little glimpses of what he can do. He’ll be better for that.”
• Team captain Ozzie Alonso started Friday after he missed Sunday’s opener because of injury. Heath credited his presence for the Loons’ better start and better ball retention.