And on Sunday night, Minnesota United finally played on.
The Loons settled for a 2-2 draw when they allowed Houston two comeback second-half goals in their first game in 12 days after COVID-19 testing of players and staff postponed games at FC Dallas and at home against Chicago.
Loons coach Adrian Heath called midfielder Ethan Finlay’s two first-half goals “moments of quality” that didn’t stand up for a team that trained fully only twice in the past two weeks and wasn’t sharp of both mind and body.
They hadn’t played since an Oct. 6 scoreless draw at Nashville SC while Houston played for the fifth time in 15 days on a cold October night at Allianz Field.
“They looked like a team that’s in rhythm,” Heath said. “They’ve been playing all their games. They looked sharper than us, I have to say.”
The Loons have won only once in their past seven games and are in fifth place, six points away from the Western Conference’s lead and three points from missing the playoffs.
Afterward, Heath attributed his team’s third draw in four games to “poor decisionmaking” rather than tired legs.
“We ran with it when we should have passed it and we passed it when we should have run with it,” Heath said. “We made poor choices all evening. With the start we had, I thought we might get away with it. But in the end, it was too much.”
The Loons played without star attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. Defender Jose Aja and young designated player Thomas Chacon weren’t on the roster of Sunday’s 18 starters and subs, either.
MLS and Minnesota United don’t identify players and staff who test positive for coronavirus. Heath cited a “medical condition” when asked about Reynoso’s absence and Heath said he’s hopeful Reynoso can play Saturday at FC Cincinnati.
Finlay called Reynoso “a really talented player” whom his team missed Sunday, but …
“That wasn’t the reason we lost [Sunday],” Finlay said. “This was self-inflicted. I’m not saying Reynoso wouldn’t have made a difference, but we could have won without Reynoso. We had a strong enough lineup and we performed plenty well enough to win that game.”
Last time the Loons played, Finlay came off the field at Nashville telling Heath he was sorry he didn’t convert scoring chances in his first game back — all 90 minutes, too — after September knee surgery.
This time he put away two first-half chances, converting teammate Robin Lod’s pass from the left side through the 18-yard box with a left-footed strike that went over Houston keeper Marko Maric just as he went down in the 11th minute.
“It was nice to hammer that one home with the left foot,” he said. “It was something I’ve been working on.”
In the 30th minute, Finlay scored left-footed again, this time finishing Jacori Hayes’ perfectly timed pass on his run behind the Houston back line.
But just as they had in Houston a month ago, the Loons gave back a 2-0 halftime lead and left with a mere point after a 2-2 draw.
Houston’s Memo Rodriguez’s strike in the 59th minute off former Loons star Darwin Quintero’s pass ended goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s shutout streak at 349 minutes, a club record dating back through three complete clean sheets.
Substitute Niko Hansen’s shot from the goal mouth that St. Clair couldn’t steer away tied the score in the 83rd minute.
“The reason we’re disappointed is we expect to win these games,” Finlay said. “Any time you’re up 2-0 at home, the expectation is to win. We hold ourselves accountable. We hold ourselves to higher standards. [Sunday’s lost lead] felt self-inflicted, very unbecoming of what this group is. We’re not going to use any excuse that we had limited training, but I could feel it and you saw it.”