Minnesota United stretched its unbeaten streak to seven games after Wednesday’s careening 2-2 comeback draw with Chicago Fire FC earned another precious point but nonetheless dropped it out of a home-field playoff spot for now.
The Loons overcame a 2-0 deficit after 52 minutes by scoring second-half goals within 16 minutes of each other. Defender Jose Aja’s flicked foot on second-half substitute Emanuel Reynoso’s curving free kick in the 64th minute brought the Loons within a goal and Robin Lod’s expertly aimed header in the 80th minute.
Then the Loons just escaped stoppage-time defeat after video review overturned a deflected Chicago corner-kick goal that might have been offside, a hand ball or both.
“Them things happen in football,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “The second half, we deserved to be 2-2. If the game had gone longer with the attitude we were showing, I expected us to go and win the game.”
The draw left the Loons 3-0-4 in their past seven games and unbeaten since a Sept. 23 loss at Columbus.
It also left Heath livid in a postgame interview with FSN and a video conference call with reporters.
A team featuring former Loons starters Francisco Calvo and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, the Fire arrived Wednesday needing four points in its final two regular-season games to clinch the Eastern Conference’s 10th and final playoff spot.
The Loons, meanwhile, already had clinched a playoff spot but remain aimed at one of the Western Conference’s top-four spots that earn a home playoff game.
“It looked like one team needed to win to get into the playoffs,” Heath said, “and one was happy just to be playing football. That was a big difference.”
Guess which was which …
When it was all over, the Loons with their precious point earned dropped from fourth place and that final home-field spot to a sixth-place tiebreaker behind fourth-place FC Dallas and fifth-place Los Angeles FC. They finish their 21-game regular season at home Sunday against Dallas on MLS’ “Decision Day” with at least one more home game in the playoffs on the line.
“Yeah, we are,” veteran midfielder Jan Gregus said about being happy about his team’s unbeaten streak. “But on the other hand, I think we could do much better.”
Heath commended his team’s second-half turnaround and lambasted its first 25 minutes in a game postponed three weeks when ironman defender Michael Boxall in this age of COVID-19 testing was neither starter nor substitute and starting left back Chase Gasper missed his second consecutive game. The Loons also were noticeably short in the midfield without injured captain Ozzie Alonso, Hassani Dotson and Jacori Hayes.
“Some of our play was excellent second half,” Heath said. “But we shouldn’t need me to be as irate and emotional as I was at halftime to get that type of reaction.”
Heath’s postgame speeches valued running, tackling and winning individual one-on-one battles over soccer’s modern-day tactics.
Heath was asked after about what proved the difference between Wednesday’s first 25 minutes and the 65-plus.
“Attitude,” Heath said. “Individuals taking responsibility, not taking the easy option, playing on the front foot, individual battles. It seems very simple, but it’s one of the hardest things to do in modern football. Everybody is a coach. Everybody knows what to do. Everybody knows what tactics are.”
The Loons hadn’t trained as a team since last week’s victory over Colorado because of a positive COVID test within the team. They played yet another reconfigured lineup in an unprecedented season with three injured starters out Wednesday.
“If you would like to use it as an excuse, we should use it for the whole season,” Gregus said. “From the start to this game, there has been so many changes. Injured players, many new players who came in. That’s the point: You have to have a strong squad.”