A year after walking away from sold-out Allianz Field losers in the franchise’s first home playoff game, Minnesota United on Sunday night left the empty stadium a 3-0 winner over Colorado — and three more games from winning the MLS Cup.
Last season’s 2-1 loss to star-studded L.A. Galaxy still left Loons coach Adrian Heath bitter a year later. Sunday’s victory was his first in the playoffs in six MLS seasons as a head coach in Orlando and Minnesota. It also extended his club’s unbeaten streak that ended the regular season and starts the playoffs to nine games, at 5-0-4 with five of those nine games shutouts.
“Magnificent effort,” Heath said afterward. “I’m very, very pleased for a lot of different reasons. I’m pleased for the group, pleased for our supporters more than anything, pleased for our ownership group. I think they’ve started to see the investments on the field now starting to take shape.”
The fourth-seeded Loons advance to a Western Conference semifinal Dec. 1 or 2 at Sporting Kansas City, a place that Heath said Sunday “we’ve been at best at times awful down there.” They will do so against a top-seeded Sporting team that overcame No. 8 San Jose in penalty kicks Sunday at home.
“We live to go again,” Heath said. “Now we’ve got three to go.”
The Loons won Sunday with two goals — the evening’s first and last — from veteran midfielder Kevin Molino and the third from Finland’s Robin Lod, who was one of three international players who returned by charter flight from FIFA play overseas in time to play.
Only starting right back Romain Metanire couldn’t return in time, so versatile midfielder Hassani Dotson played aptly in Metanire’s absence.
Lod started out top again as a “false” striker with Molino, Emanuel Reynoso and Ethan Finlay behind him for the second consecutive game. Reynoso played his part in all three goals, assisting on each one with the deft passing that has transformed his new team since he arrived in September.
Molino now has 11 goals this season and Lod 10 in a threesome of playmakers who get better by the game.
“His awareness on the field is incredible,” Molino said about Reynoso in an ESPN postgame interview. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”
Molino’s goal in the 22nd minute came after Reynoso was bumped off the ball, but it went directly to the feet of Molino, whose run into the 18-yard box quickly ended with a left-footed shot that beat Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough. His right-footed goal in the 79th minute finished off a counterattack in which Reynoso made the first pass and Gregus the second.
In between, Lod provided the 54th-minute goal that kept away a Colorado team that won three consecutive games to end the regular season and make the playoffs. Reynoso’s superb angled pass found Lod on a full run, and his strike from 18 yards curved perfectly around Yarbrough, just as Molino’s shot had done earlier in the game.
“The boys are on fire now,” Gregus said. “I hope the form is going to stay with them. Rey especially can create so much space and so many chances. It’s good for us to have these options. It’s not only him these last games. All four of them [midfielder Ethan Finlay included] have played really well.”
Gregus’ sliding tackle near the goal line prevented a sure goal in the 52nd minute of a 1-0 game in which the Loons clung to Molino’s early goal. Two minutes later, Lod made it 2-0.
“It was very important they didn’t score,” Gregus said. “It would have been 1-1, if I’m not wrong, and a completely different game.”
Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair played his part as well, stopping several scoring chances by a Colorado team that missed a few as well.
“We could have scored more,” Gregus said. “But we were lucky a few times when they didn’t score.”
The Loons again joined arms afterward and saluted their supporters, who haven’t attended a game this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only Molino, Finlay and defenders Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman date to the Loons’ first season in 2017. All four have watched the trajectory of a team that allowed 70 and 71 goals its first two seasons and now has won a playoff game.
“It means a lot,” Boxall said. “Walking off the field, I was just thinking back to where we were at when I first came to the club. It just stinks there was no one in the stands. We’ve had the best support, even through those rough years, and there was no one there to really celebrate it. I think everybody knows the supporters made this place what it is.”