Minnesota United FC sits fourth in the combined North American Soccer League standings meaning, if the season ended before Saturday, the Loons would be a playoff team.
Eight matches remain, however, and the Loons (36 points) are only ahead of Miami FC by four points for the final postseason spot. And the Sunshine State boys have played one fewer match. Indy Eleven sits above Minnesota by three points — the amount earned by a victory.
Minnesota coach Carl Craig, while valuing home-field advantage in the playoffs, said jockeying for a spot isn’t the focus.
“You go for the win each game, but there’s no need to be stupid about it,” Craig said. “We’re worried about the playoffs. If other teams start dropping, we’ll worry about position.”
A 4-0 rout by Miami FC on Aug. 6 forced Minnesota, which has led the NASL in scoring the past two seasons, to assume a different identity.
The Loons have possessed the ball less than the opponent in each of the past six games. But they have allowed just three goals in that span and played to a draw or victory five times. Twice, Minnesota did not allow a shot on goal.
“That was the turning point for us to figure out that we had to get back to the grinding, ugly, defensive side of the game,” midfielder Jamie Watson said. “It’s fun to score goals because those plays become the highlights. But what you don’t see sometimes are the guys who are willing to leave with their jerseys completely dirtied up and covered in sweat because they’ve run around and made nuisances of themselves defensively.”
The defense maintained solid results despite a mix of six players lined up in four variations the past half dozen matches.
“It wasn’t like we reinvented our shape,” left back Justin Davis said. “It was just guys paying closer attention to the 1 or 2 yards that can make the difference.”
Two personnel changes also paid off. Playing Jeb Brovsky for the injured Kevin Venegas solidified the back line. Also, Aaron Pitchkolan’s defensive midfield play made the Loons tougher in the middle.
“We have bought into the system,” said center back Damion Lowe, who is expected to play Saturday after recovering from a hamstring injury. “We stay compact, and we’ve made ourselves tough to break down. Communication is the key, and we fight to the end.”
Game of chance
A coin flip Oct. 16 in New York will determine whether Minnesota United FC or Atlanta United receives its choice of the first pick in the Dec. 13 expansion draft, the college Super Draft or one of four additional player-selection mechanisms.
The 20 current MLS clubs will have the ability to protect 11 rostered players from the expansion draft. Minnesota and Atlanta officials will receive the available player list three days before the draft.
The teams will alternate picking five players, a modified format those teams worked with MLS officials to create.
Teams used to get 10 expansion players but quality outweighs quantity.
Minnesota United FC Sporting Director Manny Lagos said “four to six expansion draft players have made significant contributions to a MLS expansion franchise the following year.”
Minnesota United FC players will wear custom No. 11 warmup jerseys Saturday.
All individually signed jerseys, plus four signed by the entire team, will be donated to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to help raise money.
In addition, the club will sponsor a station at the inaugural Running HOME for Jacob 5K on Oct. 22 at Lake Phalen in St. Paul.