The temperatures are (at some point going to be) rising, which can only mean one thing: summer’s here in Minnesota.
Along with the warmer weather comes the core part of the Major League Soccer season. With Minnesota United expected to compete in the playoffs this year, it’s important for the Loons to stay on pace during this portion of the season.
The Loons currently sit fifth in the Western Conference table with eighteen points, a fringe spot. If the playoffs started today, Minnesota would fly into the beloved postseason. Yet it all is a bit unstable, it is early in the season, Real Salt Lake occupies the last playoff spot with sixteen points, and FC Dallas is tied with Minnesota at eighteen points. Minnesota United’s summer endeavors to be an ever-important section of the schedule.
The Western Conference is currently dominated by an LAFC team that looks far beyond anyone else. Along with LAFC, Seattle has been on the rise, undefeated in their last five games. The Western Conference is filled with threats, some of which have had a slow start. Sporting Kansas City and Portland have a 57% and 68% chance to make the playoffs, respectively, according to Five-Thirty-Eight’s odds, yet they sit far below the playoff line. Minnesota has their work cut out for them, but what can be reasonably expected?
Minnesota United has ten games before the All-Star game on August 1. The next two games will prove to be hefty tests — facing both Houston and Atlanta, which have been playing well. Expecting one point out of those two games seems pessimistic, but with Minnesota’s attack of late, it is not unrealistic. The next two games are Philadelphia and Colorado, both of which should be winnable, but again assuming the worst, Minnesota comes out with four points. After the summer break the Loons face Colorado away, then Cincinnati and San Jose at home. In this favorable set of games, United could easily come away with seven points. The next four games really could swing either way and are too far to predict much, but say we come away with six points — because after all, they face both FC Dallas and Montreal.
Following the above train of thought, Minnesota would have thirty-six points at the All-Star game. At the time of the All-Star game last year, Minnesota had twenty-eight points sitting in eighth place in the West. It looks like at that time this year, the playoff line will be somewhere around the thirty point mark (at the All-Star game), potentially a little lower considering the additional playoff spot this year.
All of this speculation can take a lot of turns, but expecting thirty-six points at the beginning of August still seems a bit much. However, the defense has been performing well even without Ike Opara as proved by the Columbus game. The attack has been a question of late, and in watching the recent games it seems that Darwin holds the ball too much. Now that he has a more talented squad around him he does not need to beat three or four defenders — he needs to attract defenders and then pass away the ball. Also this summer seems likely for the front office to shop around, Minnesota, after all, has some TAM GAM SPAM stored up.
Overall Minnesota should be happy. The primary concern, defense, has been largely fixed, which allows most games to be competitive. As long as the offense can pick things up, the Loons should be a playoff contender.