Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath didn’t hold back words when explaining the importance of his team’s match Wednesday against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes.
“This is our most important game of the season so far,” Heath said. “We know it’s going to be tough. I also know that playing at home, I’ll take our chances against anybody. I fully expect us to win.”
The Loons (7-7-3) and Earthquakes (7-6-4) are separated by only one point in the standings. United is coming off a dominating 7-1 victory over FC Cincinnati that ended a three-game MLS losing streak. San Jose is unbeaten in its past six games and has dropped only one of its past 11 MLS matches.
“It’s obvious they’ve all bought in,” Heath said. “You look at the games, you listen to the players being interviewed, they’ve all bought in to what they’re doing. Now you can see the end results.”
The Loons have been buoyed by production from young players getting more minutes, including second-year pro Mason Toye, who scored for second consecutive game against Cincinnati, this time as a substitute. It also got strong play from rookie defender Chase Gasper, who was aggressive and played the ball well in space. Heath called him the best Loons player on the pitch.
Gasper, drafted No. 15 overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, started for the first time in his career Saturday.
The rookie said he will be working to build off his performance, one that turned some heads considering how often he was around the ball.
Asked about Heath praising him, Gasper said, “It feels incredible to have your coach say that. I just thought it was a fantastic team performance.”
Gasper’s emergence comes during a surge for the Loons, whose seven goals Saturday were a club record. Couple that with a pair of U.S. Open Cup victories against Sporting Kansas City and Houston and that’s a three-game winning streak against MLS opponents.
While the visiting Loons beat the Earthquakes 3-0 on March 9, San Jose — which uses an unusual pressing man-to-man system — looks nothing like it did early in the season, Heath said.
For Saturday’s match, it should help that the Loons are at home, considering they have only lost once this season during MLS play at their new facility.
“Every game at home against a Western Conference team is going to be huge for us,” Heath said. “It makes such a difference to the table. We’re looking forward to it.”
United’s victory against the Earthquakes was nearly four months ago. Now, in the middle of the playoff push, Heath has been preparing his team for the in-conference clash.
“The results suggest that they’re a lot different,” Heath said. “They’re pretty unique in the way they play the game, probably unlike any other team in the league.”