Fourth-seeded Minnesota United, a 3-0 winner in Thursday's Western Conference semifinal over top-seeded Sporting Kansas City, now gets just three full days' preparation before Monday's conference final at defending MLS champion Seattle.
"Thursday Night Football" postponed the Dallas-Baltimore game because of a COVID-19 outbreak, so the Loons-SKC game in Kansas City changed from Wednesday to Thursday to fill a hole in Fox's national prime-time programming.
"Just one more thing this season," Loons coach Adrian Heath said.
What else in a season suspended four months by a pandemic, restarted twice in summer, training canceled or curtailed often and games called off on mere hours' notice?
Seattle's 1-0 home victory over FC Dallas on Tuesday in the other Western semifinal allows the Sounders five days' rest and regeneration by Monday. The Loons get three days before a Western final originally scheduled for Sunday.
"An extra two days gives you a big advantage and then you're at home and you don't have to travel," Heath said after Thursday's game. "But we knew that before. We'll rest players up. We'll have a chat [Friday] to see where we are and then we'll go and give it our best shot again on Monday. We know where we're going. It's never easy in Seattle, a top team."
MLS officials decided Fox's prime-time, national broadcast exposure outweighed the drawbacks.
"We're trying to grow this game," Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said. "We're part of the entertainment business. This is a great opportunity to broaden our reach to different spectators out there. The opportunity to play in a prime-time spot on a prime-time network is huge."
What's in a rivalry?
Minnesota United's "rivalry" with Sporting Kansas City has received some mention on the internet as the friendliest one in sports, maybe because only a playoff history makes a real one.
"Some rivalries are created a whole different way," Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza said. "They came to the league not too long ago. They're a very competitive team and so are we. We have come very close in every single game we had to play. They're great guys. They're a great team. I like playing against them and vice versa. … It's good there's no bad beef between the teams, and we go to play soccer and nothing else."
Maybe he forgot his team had outscored the Loons 15-1 in six previous games played in Kansas City.
No place like home
Sporting Kansas City has allowed fans to occupy 18% of Children's Mercy Park's occupancy during the pandemic, or about 3,300 who attended Thursday's game. Minnesota United has not allowed fans all season.
"You'd always rather be at home, there's no doubt," Vermes said. "I always think it's different when you have fans in a full stadium. … Don't get me wrong: The fans we'll have at our games will be incredibly important to the players' motivation for sure, but I can't lie to you and say it's not different when we have a full stadium."
• Heath said starting left back Chase Gasper sustained a "nasty cut on his knee, which we're concerned about. It looks like it'll need quite a few stitches. We'll see where we are [Friday]."
• Loons play-by-play announcer Callum Williams missed working on radio what he called the biggest game in the club's MLS history because he was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He tweeted neither he nor his wife has symptoms and both have tested negative twice. He must quarantine for 14 days before being allowed to return to Allianz Field. "I understand and respect this decision," he wrote.