For all the goodwill Minnesota United amassed in two U.S. Open Cup victories, it was still on the heels of a three-game Major League Soccer skid entering the second half of the season.
So with the Loons in the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and looking to move up, they knew how important their match Saturday against FC Cincinnati was.
By the time the final whistle blew, United left no doubt. A dominating 7-1 victory over the visitors picked up three crucial points in the standings.
“All points are important, whether it be early in the year, middle of the year, end of the year,” defender Ike Opara said. “Obviously we’ve got a stretch of games at home, a lot that we’re going to play. Starting that off with a win was important for us. So now we move on.”
Six Loons players scored, with Opara scoring twice. Forward Mason Toye scored in his second consecutive game for United, this time with his first MLS goal.
This time, it was the Loons piling it on against a struggling team instead of the other way around. The seven-goal outburst set a record for goals in a game since United transitioned to MLS in 2017.
Early on in coach Adrian Heath’s time with the Loons, he dealt with similar lopsided scores. So the one-sided result in favor of his team was a welcome sight.
“We took every opportunity that came our way at the appropriate time,” Heath said. “Obviously, I’m pleased for the players.”
The offensive explosion started with Opara in the 18th minute. Then United broke it open, scoring three times in a 12-minute span. Hassani Dotson’s shot from outside the box captivated the announced crowd of 19,778. Ethan Finlay and Angelo Rodriguez then scored to wrap up the opening half.
By the time halftime rolled around, United was up 4-0. But it was no time to rest for the Loons, Heath warned at halftime.
“I thought we did a really good job before then, trying to still create and try not to fall into the lull of being up 4-0,” Opara said of coming out of the break. “That’s always a kind of difficult aspect of the game, especially when you have a bunch of games coming up.”
United did allow a goal in the 56th minute to Emmanuel Ledesma, whose blast made it through goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
The Loons tacked on to their multigoal advantage, though, to put away the match. Opara’s header secured his brace in the 70th minute.
Then Toye, who came in as a substitute, scored again, adding on to his recent hot streak. Then with the game all but decided in the 87th minute, Toye assisted on Kevin Molino’s goal, United’s seventh.
“I’m just being a little bit smarter,” Toye said. “My mind’s calmed down a little bit, so stuff has started to slow down for me.”
With the beginning of a strenuous seven-game, 22-day stretch, the Loons continue their playoff push. Next up is a Wednesday night visit from the San Jose Earthquakes.
“It’s going to be a big game for us,” Heath said. “Another Western Conference team. We’ll be ready for Wednesday.”