On their way to a second consecutive first-round home playoff game, Minnesota United players linked arms after Sunday’s 3-0 victory over FC Dallas and ran toward an empty Wonderwall before they lifted their arms in salute and applauded supporters who couldn’t be there while the Oasis song with the same name played.
Last year, the Loons lost at Allianz Field to L.A. Galaxy in their first playoff game in three MLS seasons. In two weeks, they’ll play Colorado in a pairing that changed at least twice late in Sunday’s Decision Day, delayed nearly a month by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Sunday’s final minutes, the Loons’ first-round opponent went from Los Angeles FC to FC Dallas and finally to Colorado, depending on goals scored and game results.
“Everything this season has been so unpredictable,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “The last day was so unpredictable.”
By then, the Loons owned a three-goal lead in a game that sandwiched a pair of Kevin Molino goals around midfielder Emanuel Reynoso’s first MLS goal.
The Loons ended the regular season with an eight-game unbeaten streak (4-0-4). They beat Colorado 2-1 two weeks ago at Allianz Field and tied 2-2 in July’s MLS is Back Tournament.
When Sunday’s game was over, players applauded supporters in an Allianz Field stadium that has been empty except for family and friends and a few others.
“That was their little bit of a thank you,” Heath said. “Hopefully we’ve got a few more home games and hopefully that end will be full next year for some of the best supporters in the league.”
Afterward, Loons players and their supporters celebrated a victory the club needed to secure a home playoff game they’re expected to play without starters Robin Lod, Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire and Kei Kamara.
All four are bound to play for each player’s national team starting Wednesday and none are expected available back for that first playoff game played Nov. 21 at the earliest. It’s a situation with the sport’s governing body FIFA and its November international competition window that Heath calls a “disaster” for MLS teams missing players near playoff time.
He called Sunday’s victory and celebration meaningful for all this suspended season’s stops and starts, postponements and cancellations because of the pandemic.
“More satisfaction this year because of what we’ve been through,” Heath said. “Trust me, this has been the most stressful five, six months we’ve ever had. I’m really pleased for the players tonight. I’m pleased for everybody: Staff, supporters, the ownership group. I think we’ve proven an awful lot of people wrong this year with the amount of adversity we’ve had to come through.”
They played Sunday without a striker after Kamara tweaked a groin in training Saturday and Aaron Schoenfeld sat out with a calf injury.
So Heath started winger Robin Lod out front with fellow midfielders Molino, Reynoso and Ethan Finlay right behind him.
The result: Molino, Reynoso and Lod contributed to every goal with combination play. Reynoso and Lod assisted on Molino’s opening goal in the 17th minute and his closing one in the 79th minute. In between, Lod and Molino assisted on Reynoso’s first goal just after halftime.
Molino said he plays a “false” goal-scoring center forward in that four-man front that “gives us a lot of options.
“We play with a lot of movement,” Molino said. “They didn’t know how to deal with us.”
Heath has seen in training many times what that front four did together Sunday night.
“They’re all on the same wavelength,” Heath said. “I’ve seen all that ticka-tacka play in and around the penalty areas in training the last few months. I wasn’t concerned about that. That group, when they play, is as good as anybody.”