When a team is good enough to make the playoffs but flawed enough to create doubts – which describes pretty much every Minnesota team to reach the postseason this decade aside from the Lynx – talking yourself into the idea of a deep run and a possible championship requires equal parts hope and amnesia.
A more likely reality is this: At some point the run will end, perhaps sooner than you would like. And when it does, the culprit won’t be a surprise. Good-but-not-great playoff teams tend to find out that a problem they think they’ve fixed or an issue they hope will go away will show up under the bright lights of the postseason.
Sometimes it’s dramatic (see: 2009 Vikings and Brett Favre limiting interceptions all season until the last possible moment). Other times it’s a slower but equally damaging burn.
The freshest illustration of that point regarding local teams came courtesy of Minnesota United on Sunday.
The Loons ascended to the Major League Soccer playoffs for the first time in three seasons in the league thanks in large part to a defense that allowed just 43 goals after giving up 71 the year before.
That was good enough to get Minnesota United the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and a home matchup Sunday against a flawed L.A. Galaxy team.
A lot of United fans, still shaken by shoddy defenses of the past, had to wonder if this improvement would hold up. And if they talked themselves into that, there was the concern about a team better at creating chances than finishing them.
The Loons were the better team in many ways Sunday, but the playoffs are about finishing. The Galaxy exploited two defensive lapses while the Loons squandered glorious chances. The 2-1 final was earned, if disappointing.
Not to take you down too far on this tortured history path, but Twins fans had similar concerns heading into the playoffs this year against the Yankees.
Could the revamped bullpen hold up and match the Yankees? Would an offense that set an MLB record with 307 home runs keep pace with New York? There was optimism, to be sure.
The answers were no and no – and so was the answer to the biggest fear-based question of all: Could the Twins shake the Yankees curse?
It was just a couple years ago that Vikings fans talked themselves into believing the team’s offensive line, a season-wrecker in 2016, could maintain its adequate play from the 2017 regular season all the way to the Super Bowl.
But those pesky weaknesses have a way of reappearing. The Vikings led the NFC title game 7-0 and had the ball near midfield when Case Keenum’s arm was hit as he threw. A pick-six completely changed the tenor of what became a 38-7 Eagles rout in which Keenum was pressured on 48% of his dropbacks.
(Note: This cautionary tale should be remembered as this year’s Vikings continue to get improved play from a once-leaky offensive line).
Last but not least: The 2016-17 Wild finished as the NHL’s second-highest scoring team in the regular season and gained the home-ice edge in the opening round against St. Louis.
In the back of everyone’s mind, though, was the perpetual question: Could the Wild continue that surprising and balanced output in the playoffs?
Five games, four losses and eight goals later, we had our answer and the Blues had a series win.
And the Loons’ output Sunday was enough to make the more cynical among us dub them the “Soccer Wild,” at least for now.