Minnesota United plays its MLS Decision Day finale Sunday against FC Dallas with the Western Conference’s fourth place and a first-round home playoff game at stake.
If the Loons win, they are guaranteed an Allianz Field home playoff game for the second consecutive year.
When Sunday’s home game is over, four Loons starters — midfielders Robin Lod and Jan Gregus, plus defender Romain Metanire and striker Kei Kamara — all will leave to play for national team duty. With a likely nine-day quarantine facing each upon his return, all four are expected to miss the Loons’ first playoff game home or away, scheduled for Nov. 21 at the earliest.
“It’s a delicate situation, us and a few other clubs in a bit of a hole,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “If the quarantine stays at nine days, they’ll probably miss the playoff game, which is not ideal when you consider you work all year to make the playoffs.”
The Loons list captain Ozzie Alonso (leg), Jacori Hayes (groin) and Aaron Schoenfeld (calf) as out Sunday, and Heath in a Saturday video call with reporters talked hopefully about using the next two weeks after Sunday to get Alonso, defender Michael Boxall (shoulder, 11 stitches in his knee) and midfielder Hassani Dotson back fully healthy by that playoff game.
The Loons play FC Dallas for the third time since MLS restarted its regular season in mid-August with a regionally condensed regular-season schedule. They’d be playing Dallas for a fourth time if an Oct. 11 game in Texas hadn’t been canceled because of positive COVID-19 testing within Minnesota United.
The Loons lost 3-1 in Dallas in late August and won 3-2 at home 11 days later. They are unbeaten in their past seven games (3-0-4) while FC Dallas has won three consecutive games and is 4-1-1 in its past six.
FC Dallas will fly by chartered jet to Minnesota midmorning Sunday and return that night, abiding by MLS travel rules this season intended to minimize teams’ exposure to COVID-19 while traveling.
“It’s difficult to play a team so often,” Loons veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said. “Both teams, you figure out your strengths and you figure out each other’s weaknesses. For me, a game at home hopefully will be the biggest difference. The same-day travel has been very difficult for teams.”
A victory Sunday will move the fifth-place Loons past fourth-place Dallas. Both teams would have 34 points, but this season’s determining points-per-game factor gives the Loons the higher number because they’ll have played 21 games to Dallas’ 22.
Same thing if sixth-place Los Angeles FC beats second-place Portland to get to 34 points.
Heath calls a single-elimination home playoff game important, even if fans won’t be allowed at Allianz Field because of the pandemic. The Loons lost their first home playoff game last season to the L.A. Galaxy.
“If you look around the world, home-field advantage has dropped significantly,” Heath said. “But would I prefer to be at home rather than do all the traveling? I would do so. So I think certainly in the playoffs, one-off games you need to win. It’ll be important.”
Finlay considers the season’s final game just simple math: one game, three points. Just win.
“For me, it’s very clear: You win and you’re in that fourth spot,” Finlay said. “That should be our sole focus. It’s nice honestly knowing you don’t have to depend on any other result to go your way. We get to play at home on Decision Day, which is a great benefit. We know what’s at stake.”