String a few victories together, Minnesota United FC defender Justin Davis has said, and a team can look back and laugh at its stumbles.
Who’s laughing now? Not the Loons, just yet.
They have reason to smile, however, coming out of their bye week. More than just survive, the team thrived during a stretch playing five of six matches on the road. Minnesota went 3-1-2, punctuating the run with victories at Ottawa — sitting first in the fall season standings — and Tampa Bay.
The Loons return home for a 7 p.m. match Wednesday against Indy Eleven at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine. A victory would bring them even with Ottawa (32 points) for second place in the overall standings behind the New York Cosmos, the spring champion. The Fury has draws the past two matches, another factor in the Loons’ improved playoff position. Playoff participants will be comprised of the winners of each season, plus the two teams with the best overall records over the course of both campaigns.
“It might be too early to look back and laugh,” Davis said of Minnesota’s missed opportunities to turn draws into victories. “But it shows how much three points can do for you.”
The Ottawa victory featured a change in Minnesota’s late-match fortunes. The host Fury drew even at 1-1 in the 73rd minute. As the clock ran down, the Loons appeared headed for another tie. Then Daniel Mendes buried a free kick in stoppage time for a 2-1 victory.
“I don’t know if we can put all the emphasis on that win as a turning point,” Davis said. “But it was nice to win because we were a little desperate. We needed a result.”
Davis scored the eventual game-winning goal as Minnesota followed up with a 3-1 victory at Tampa Bay. Falling behind 1-0 early, the Loons responded with a flurry.
“Letting in that goal was frustrating but to answer back was something we haven’t been doing,” Davis said.
A more consistent Loons team follows the lead of Davis and fellow defender Tiago Calvano. Together, they have seen action in all but one minute of regular-season play.
Coach Manny Lagos mentioned Davis’ goal and sound defensive play in Tampa Bay as examples of how the North American Soccer League Best XI selection last season is getting even better.
As for Calvano, a veteran with international experience, Lagos said, “He’s been a huge part of the growth of this team this year and the franchise the past two years.”
Davis and Calvano have helped keep the team relevant despite inconsistent forward play and a retooled midfield.
Forward Christian Ramirez scored goals in seven of the team’s past eight matches, recapturing his electrifying rookie form after a spring season slump.
The midfield, which Lagos called “massively disrupted,” lost Miguel Ibarra (transferred to Club Leon), Jonny Steele (left team) and Jamie Watson (injury). But newcomers Kalif Alhassan and Yago Silva have emerged.
Playing at home Wednesday will test Minnesota’s resolve. In two of three home matches this fall, the Loons allowed goals in the final 20 minutes and settled for draws.
Calvano blamed those results on “silly mistakes” but feels the team is better equipped to close out matches. A playoff berth depends on it.
“Now is the time to cut out our mistakes and I think we’re doing it at the right moment,” Calvano said. “It was a good sign to get some good results away. Now we need to keep it going at home.”