What began as the biggest week of the season for Minnesota United FC turned into one of the worst. Wednesday, United lost on penalties to St. Louis FC, an upset win for the lower-division side and an abrupt, premature end to Minnesota’s 2015 US Open Cup campaign. Saturday, United drew with New York - a 90th-minute Cosmos goal snatching one point from the jaws of three, effectively removing Minnesota from the spring-season NASL title race as well.
Minnesota has had any number of excellent US Open Cup memories – most recently, a 3-1 drubbing of Real Salt Lake in 2012 – and so perhaps our expectations are set a little too high. I tend to think at least making it to the fourth round where MLS teams enter, and possibly a chance to make it to the quarterfinals, is not unreasonable. For the second time in three years, though, United couldn’t even get past their first game and into the bracket with the MLS sides.
The US Open Cup also offered the opportunity to bridge the NASL’s goofy June break in the schedule. United’s last game of the spring season is June 13, their first of the fall on July 4; US Open Cup games on June 16 and June 30 would have fit nicely into the calendar. Instead, the nicest month of the summer has very little local soccer.
The one benefit of the NASL’s odd split season is that there’s a pennant race already in late May; it gave Saturday’s match a late-season feel. A win would have moved Minnesota within three points of New York, with a game in hand, giving United an excellent chance at the spring title. The draw means that Minnesota is all but eliminated; New York would have to lose its final match, and Minnesota would need a pair of multiple-goal wins to close both the standings gap and the goal-difference gap.
The two games add up to a tough week for the home eleven – not the week they wanted when last Monday dawned. It’d be a bad time for any sort of letdown, though. Given that two playoff spots go to the teams with the best overall records over both the spring and fall NASL seasons, United would do well not to let off the gas; at the moment, they are the same six points away from last-placed Indy that they are from the first-placed Cosmos.
A road game at Carolina awaits this Saturday. Minnesota hasn’t won in Cary since the 2011 playoffs – and the RailHawks are fresh off a four-goal drubbing of Jacksonville. Rough weeks aside, it won’t get any easier for United.
For much, much more on United's difficult week, including recaps, photos, and player ratings, check out Northern Pitch.