Minnesota United played 33 games this season and it will play one more now at Seattle with at least one home playoff date on the line after its 1-1 draw with MLS-leading LAFC Sunday night at Allianz Field.
United’s draw, L.A. Galaxy’s late home loss, Seattle’s road victory and Real Salt Lake’s 75th-minute goal and 2-1 home victory over Houston kept the Loons in second place and tied with Seattle with 53 points, two more than the fourth-place Galaxy and three more than fifth-place Real Salt Lake.
They’ll play Seattle for second place and a chance to earn possibly two home games at their full, loud stadium that is replacing its new grass field because of drainage and rooting issues before the MLS playoffs open in three weeks.
A draw or Salt Lake loss or draw will assure them of at least a first-round home game.
United coach Adrian Heath was asked after Sunday’s draw before an announced 19,706 sellout crowd if his team can go to Seattle’s big stadium and win home-field advantage.
“Of course we can,” he said. “We’ve got the players to win anywhere, as we’ve shown. No one thought we could go to LAFC and win, but we did. Where have wee been? Red Bulls? One of the toughest games. Atlanta? One of the best teams at home, game could have gone the other way.
“We can go in there and win for sure and we’re going to go try and win.”
Heath rested 33-year-old midfielder Ozzie Alonso and nicked-up Kevin Molino on Sunday, started veteran French defender Wilfried Moimbé-Tahrat for suspended left back Chase Gasper and started vet Lawrence Olum in Alonso’s spot.
He also put striker Angelo Rodriguez in the first 18 as a second-half sub who came on right after halftime for starter Mason Toye in a scoreless game. Rodriguez had played just 26 minutes in the past six games.
He had three great chances in those final 45 minutes, including in the 83rd minute after LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega stopped him twice from close range.
“I wanted to score, I wanted to return with a goal,” Rodriguez said in Spanish through an interpreter. “If you remember, a couple months back I scored three goals. This time around, I had three chances, but none of them went in. I stay calm. I did everything well and had options to score, which is the most important thing.”
The teams traded second-half goals within five minutes of each other. LAFC star and league MVP favorite Carlos Vela tied the MLS single-season goal record with his 31st goal in the 70th minute when he bent his natural left-foot shot around both Moimbé-Tahrat and keeper Vito Mannone just inside the far post.
The goal tied the record Atlanta’s Josef Martinez set last season.
“The guy has real quality,” Heath said. “That’s what you pay for.”
United is the only team this season to win at LAFC, which it did 2-0 there a month ago with Vela out because of a hamstring injury.
“Carlos has had a fantastic season, another great goal tonight,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “Now we see him getting closer and closer to his top form.”
Defender Michael Boxall scored the equalizer for United FC five minutes later off Jan Gregus’ free kick, on a set-piece goal that was almost acrobatic, wasn’t it?
“I don’t know,” Boxall said. “It all happened so quickly. I kind of blacked out.”
He stayed just onside before his run behind LAFC’s back line ended with a twisting, backward flick of his head that eluded Sisniega.
“I actually thought we’d go on to win the game when we got that goal,” Heath said.
Instead, his team left with a point, with one more chance Sunday to ensure at least one more home game.
“When we’re fit and healthy, we’ve gone to tough places and got results,” Boxall said. “We need to finish as high as possible. You heard that crowd tonight. We’d love to have that energy in the playoffs as well.”