Colin O’Donnell: Eliminated in the Second Round
Single-elimination playoffs are a all about matchups, so let’s keep this in mind: It would take a series of events reminiscent of that night in Couva for Minnesota to not be in line to host at least the first round in the playoffs. A win gets them second outright, a draw would get them second or third, and a loss would trigger a cascade of emotions where we either hope for Vancouver to do us a solid in getting a home point against Real Salt Lake or Christian Ramirez’s Houston Dynamo beating the Galaxy, which never happens on Decision Day.
The bottom line is that either the Loons host a team that they’ve beaten at Allianz Field since July (Colorado, San Jose, Dallas, Portland, and RSL, each by either 1-0 or 3-1 scores) or they travel to Salt Lake, where they battled out a dour 1-1 draw in July. The first round seems to be full of not terrible possibilities for the Loons, which is both thrilling and terrifying as a Minnesotan raised on his teams being just good enough to thoroughly disappoint.
After that, Minnesota seems like a tough out for most teams as a road opponent. The Loons aren’t prolific on the road, but a club that knows how to bunker and claw out a counter or set-piece goal can be a nightmare if you lack the individual creativity to break them down. Seattle, LAFC, and the Galaxy all thrive on open games offensively—though the Galaxy struggles doing so at the back—so denying central space against those teams likely would be the natural play, which the Loons have done well with all season.
The issue with projecting this team further than the second round comes down to the offense. Sunday’s game against LAFC showed how you can beat them: force Carlos Vela into a clogged middle, get a set piece goal, and control the ball enough to bury a one-v-one opportunity on the break. Minnesota did the first two, but Mason Toye could neither win a second ball against nor behind the center backs and Angelo Rodriguez continued to have scoring yips. If the goals won’t come from the striker, they’ll need to come either from Darwin Quintero—who hasn’t scored against those three teams at all in 2019—or Robin Lod—who hasn’t scored in MLS at all.
Though, for what it’s worth, if this team gets hot, the +2000 bet that I got last week on the Loons winning MLS Cup was probably the best value I could find on the board.
Zak Lippert: Loons make us proud, and then less so
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past almost three years, its that the Loons can beat anyone on any given day. We have also learned that the Loons can also lose to any team on any given day. This year, the Loons have found another gear and have found ways to be dangerous to any team and have the players who can win you games. Barring a wild series of events and some suspect defending the Loons will get at least one home game. They are 10-6-1 at home this season with a +16 goal differential and, with one away game remaining, have exactly twice the points per game at Allianz compared to elsewhere.
Defensively, the Loons are leaps and bounds ahead of previous seasons. An almost completely retooled back five and midfield have provided the some stability and, worst case scenario, mean they can grind out results. If the Loons end up away in the second round, they may need to play for a couple counter attacks or set piece to nick a goal.
On the other side of the ball, the Loons have plenty of talent. Ethan Finlay, Toye, Angelo Rodriguez, Quintero, and Kevin Molino have all looked good this season, just at separate times. Their 52 goals this season puts them right in the middle of goals scored for all playoff teams, excluding the obvious outlier in LA. The key for the Loons in their first playoff game, especially if they make it to an away matchup, will be to not beat themselves. No need to get fancy, just get the ball into the hands of your playmakers and they guys that have been reliable all season, and let them win you a game.
Back in March the Loons were only supposed to be fighting for a playoff spot, and now they’re fighting to secure a shot at a second home game. This team has never done anything easy, so why start now? One big, fun, well deserved win, followed by a disappointing, empty feeling loss that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Ashle Norling: We’ve seen it before; A third year team loses in the Conference Finals
It’s been a long time, in fact just shy of 17 years since it happened but back in the Spring of 2003 the Minnesota Wild shocked the NHL by making it to the Western Conference Finals in only their third season. Not only did they do that but in the first two round they came back from the brink of elimination with 3-1 series deficits to win them and advance. The Loons will pull off something similar in the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
We’ve seen the Loons come back from being down in a game before to score a few goals in the second half and win, but I don’t think that should be much of an issue. Minnesota’s +10 goal differential puts them in 4th out of the 14 teams currently sitting in playoff positions heading into Decision Day with an attack that knows how to make noise.
The Loons don’t have a singular Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Josef Martinez (the top three goal scorers in MLS) type threat. Rather 11 players on Minnesota’s squad have scored multiple goals this season with another 4 players (for a total of 15) having scored at least one goal. This looks to help the club with guys like Darwin Quintero, Ethan Finlay, and Mason Toye leading the team in goals with 10, 7, and 6 respectively.
Minnesota also has a goalkeeper who is far and away one of the best in Major League Soccer in Vito Mannone. Mannone has saved 126 of 171 shots that have come his was, only bested by LA Galaxy’s David Bingham. Mannone also has 11 clean sheets this season, good for third in the league behind Atlanta’s Brad Guzan (14) and D.C.’s Bill Hamid (13).
On the other hand this side can be very bipolar, some nights they are very good and win or draw matches they shouldn’t. Such as the case against LAFC both times this season. Other times they lose matches they have no business losing such as against Houston just days before the match against aforementioned LAFC.
A team that was expected to fight for a low playoff spot is now fighting for a 2nd place spot in the Western Conference. I see MNUFC getting a home playoff win in the first round followed by another tight second round win to advance to the MLS Western Conference Final and falling in that round.
In that round I see them facing LAFC for the third time in 2019 and the Black and Gold ending Minnesota’s season in a similar way to how Anaheim ended the Wild’s nearly 17 years ago.
John Stephenson: Loons lose in Conference Finals
Minnesota United and Adrian Heath will count this year as a success, likely finishing second in the Western Conference. The earlier period of the season was a struggle. Losing to New England was brutal, and displayed the Loons’ lack of consistency. However, the selling of, perhaps the most inconsistent outside back in the league, Francisco Calvo proved to be a turning point. Minnesota found themselves on an 11 match unbeaten run, second place in the US Open Cup, and putting up 7 goals on the new league clowns, FC Cincinnati.
Perhaps the most important position for the Loons is striker, and it has been a struggle. Angelo has proven himself incapable of scoring, despite putting himself in good positions. Abu Danladi has lacked impact all season but has the potential to spark an offense late in the game. And finally, Mason Toye has been successful on the counter but has lacked the hold-up play that Angelo is capable of.
Minnesota’s playoff potential is sky-high. The Loons haven’t lost to LAFC this year, and seem capable of beating anyone on a good day. United could beat FC Dallas, Portland, and Seattle. However, I think the biggest fear for Minnesota should be drawing San Jose in the first round. Matías Almeyda has assembled a team that is deadly on the counter-attack and could prove to be trouble, especially if Ozzie Alonso is not at full speed.
Minnesota United has the potential to make a run in the playoffs, but it seems unlikely they could beat LAFC in the Conference Final. Bradley’s side is far more skilled than Minnesota and has controlled both games against Minnesota completely.