Minnesota United must wait one more day for its Western Conference semifinal game at Sporting Kansas City.
A team that coach Adrian Heath said has never been better prepared to win in Kansas City for the first time had its match moved from Wednesday to Thursday to fill a prime-time void left by a postponed NFL game.
The Loons’ game will be telecast nationally on Fox at 7:30 p.m., a time slot opened when the Cowboys-Ravens meeting was pushed back to Monday because Baltimore is playing the Steelers on Wednesday after numerous COVID-19 positive tests.
The MLS semifinal winner will have only three full days’ rest for a Western Conference final that the league moved from Sunday to Monday. Tuesday’s FC Dallas-Seattle winner will have five full days to rest and prepare. The Western final winner will play six days later in the Dec. 12 MLS Cup final.
The Loons have trained indoors and outside their Blaine facility and Heath said Monday his team has done most of its preparation and video work. The schedule change simply will allow an extra light training day before they fly Thursday morning to play at a Children’s Mercy Park, where they’re 0-5 since joining MLS.
“In terms of what team I pick and in terms of the way we play, this won’t make any difference,” Heath said.
The Loons lost 1-0 at Sporting KC on Sept. 13 in a game in which nearly half their lineup were reserve players and newly signed Bakaye Dibassy made his MLS debut. A Nov. 1 game scheduled to be played in Kansas City was canceled because of positive COVID-19 tests.
This time, they go there to play Western Conference top-seed Sporting KC with a nine-game unbeaten streak, 5-0-4 dating to a 2-1 loss at Columbus Crew on Sept. 23. They’ll fly down and back by chartered aircraft that same day.
“One thing I am certain about is we will be better than we’ve been certainly in the last couple years there,” Heath said. “This group will be better. I’m almost certain of that.”
Who’s the favorite?
His team is the Western Conference’s top seed, yet Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, in a Monday video call with reporters, deemed it underdogs.
“That’s what pundits are saying, so I’m going with what they say,” Vermes said, not citing any particular pundit. “That’s what I hear. That’s what I see.”
Heath called the notion his team is the favorite “mystifying.”
“Well, I get along really well with Peter, so I’ll have to ask him the question on what criteria he’s going,” Heath said. “Is it the fact they won the West and are on top of the league and rarely get beat that we are the favorites? We haven’t won a game there.”
Heath said Loons starting right-back Romain Metanire will be available Thursday. He has been training on his own while quarantined upon his return from playing for his Madagascar national team in FIFA international play.
Three others who played for their national teams — Robin Lod for Finland, Jan Gregus for Slovakia and Kei Kamara for Sierra Leone — returned by MLS-chartered planes and avoided quarantine by doing so. Metanire had to take a commercial flight on one of his legs home and wasn’t cleared to play in a 3-0 first-round playoff victory over Colorado.
“He’s fit and healthy,” said Heath, who called captain and veteran defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso the same as well.
K.C. star returns
Sporting K.C. star Alan Pulido didn’t play last week’s first-round playoff game against San Jose because of a knee he injured in training early this month, but is expected to be available Thursday. The club paid a reported club-record $9.5 million transfer fee last December for the Mexican striker
Vermes said he’s always conservative when making such decisions.
“That why last week he wasn’t part of the team,” Vermes said Monday in a video call with reporters. “This week is probably different just because he has progressed incredibly well.”