Out of the bubble after five weeks in Orlando, Minnesota United players returned home Friday to their lives as a changed team.
After a 3-1 semifinal loss to host Orlando City on Thursday in the MLS is Back Tournament, they will take three or four days off. They will get reacquainted with their wives, girlfriends, children, dogs, apartments and routines — whatever their situation might be — before they turn their training and attention to resuming the regular season.
“Came here as a team, leaving as a family,” veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay posted on Instagram, with a photo of his team huddled arm in arm on the field in Orlando.
MLS is expected on Saturday to release details for games scheduled to be played back in teams’ own markets. For the Loons, that could start in two weeks.
“They need to get away from each other,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “You know, as much as the team spirit has been incredible, they need a few days away from each other. They need a few days away from me and the staff. So we’ll probably do that.”
The loss to Orlando City was the Loons’ first since a first-round home playoff loss to L.A. Galaxy last October. They remain undefeated in the 2020 MLS regular season at 3-0-2 because only their three group-play games count toward the standings. They’re 5-1-2 if you count knockout victories over Columbus and San Jose and the tournament semifinal loss.
Heath called himself “hugely disappointed” with the loss. Minnesota United controlled much of the game for the first 30 minutes, but Orlando City star Nani scored two goals within six minutes before the first half ended.
Heath said the Loons will take with them from Orlando “the collective spirit of the group, the willingness to do everything that we asked of them,” built from all that time living together on the same floor of a Disney area resort as well as training and playing together.
“They’ve been absolutely magnificent,” Heath said in a video conference call after Thursday’s loss. “I can’t thank the players enough for their response to be down here. It’s very difficult for people back home to understand what it has been like down here for these players. Cooped up in a room for 20 hours a day is not ideal. But they have been absolutely terrific of everything we have asked of them. Their commitment to working hard and training has been brilliant.
“So there’s a lot of positives to take, mostly the chemistry within the group.”
Finlay said he and his teammates preferred — and planned — to stay five more days in Orlando for Tuesday’s final and the chance to win a new trophy, a place in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League and $1.1 million in prize money.
“When you come down the path this far, that was 100 percent our intention,” Finlay said in a separate video call. “It has probably been one of the great challenges I’ve had in my career, and I think most guys will stay that, too. Being away from your family, being away from your friends, literally living in a bubble.
“But this group, with everything we’ve had to deal with outside of COVID — losing guys like Ike [Opara], losing Romain [Metanire], making adjustments in our lineup, losing Kevin [Molino] — this team has dealt with adversity. … When I look forward after this tournament, I only have positives, to be honest with you.”
Finlay, an MLS Players Association executive board member, helped negotiate the tournament into existence with league owners in talks he said were among the most difficult of the new labor agreement reached in June.
“I know what kind of underwear these guys wear,” Finlay said. “You saw this team grow. We gel. We’ve got some new pieces and guys are really bought in to what we’re doing here. When you think about what we had happen in our city back in May [George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police] and a lot of the social injustice that really happened in our backyard, I think that was a bit of a rallying cry for our group. The tournament has only made us stronger.”
The team flew home to the Twin Cities on Friday afternoon. The Loons left for Orlando and the tournament on June 28.
“Seeing my wife will be a positive, I think,” Heath said. “It will just be nice to get out of a bubble and be able to walk around the town and walk around the lake. I always enjoy coming to Orlando. But, trust me, me and the players will be happy to get back to Minnesota.”