Last year following Minnesota United’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup loss to Atlanta United I did a similar piece asking this same question. And last season the answer was no but they could play spoiler. Unfortunately neither of those came true as MNUFC was bumped out of the MLS Cup Playoffs after one home match against LA Galaxy. Again the short answer for MNUFC contending for the MLS Cup is no, a more solid no than 2019. But the long answer is this:
This year things are wildly different, both for the league and for the Loons. A shortened and much more compact 23 game schedule compared to a normal 34 match season and an expanded playoff bracket change that. Those and of course the entire COVID-19 situation as well.
MNUFC came into this season looking like a team who may not run away with the league, but could definitely fight near the top. The Loons started 2020 with two wins, both on the road, and outscored their opponents 8-3 in those two matches. Then the COVID-19 outbreak took grip on the country and caused the league to shut down for four months. When the season resumed with the MLS Is Back Tournament in July the Loons didn’t come back as dominant but were looking good. Minnesota continued to show how good they are in knockout tournaments by advancing all the way to the Semi-Finals of the knockout round.
This seems to be the point where things fell apart for the team. Since the tournament the Loons are 2-5-2 on the season with 8 points out of a possible 27. Not really a great look, but with the playoffs expanding to 8 teams in the West the team would need to completely tank to miss them. However that is a real possibility as from MNUFC (who sits in 6th place in the West as of writing this) down to San Jose Earthquakes (who are in last) only 5 points separate the clubs.
This is in part due to the club being rattled with injuries. Tyler Miller is out for the remainder of 2020 after undergoing hip surgery. Ike Opara, Ethan Finlay, Luis Amarilla, Ozzie Alonso have been out for multiple matches. Greg Ranjitsingh has been out for a few matches after starting three matches and then backing up one.
The club however has done things to rectify this situation. In the last six to eight weeks MNUFC has brought in defender Bakaye Dibassy, midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas, and forward Kei Kamara. The combination of the moves absolutely helps with depth (Dibassy and Zendejas) but also helps with the attack (Reynoso and Kamara), which is something the Loons have been struggling with.
And that becomes the problem when talking about a potential MLS Cup run for this squad is scoring goals. The Loons have been held to less than three goals in 7 of their last 9 matches. They’ve scored less than two in 6 of those 9 and have been shut out three times in that stretch. And in the offence laden league than MLS is those are stats you cannot have. Defensively on the other hand MNUFC has done an ok job. In those same 9 games they’ve held their opponent to less than 3 goals a total of 7 times, but only held their opponent one goal or less in 3 of their 9 matches. With 9 matches left in this abbreviated season the Loons are going to need to step up on offence and get tighter on defence.
At the end of the day the Loons have a very slim chance at making let alone winning the MLS Cup Final based on their performance so far. With 8 teams making the playoffs in the Western Conference they do have a shot of heading to the Conference Semi-Finals this season, but that’s as far as I can see them going. If Minnesota can progress and get better on the attack and get and stay healthy I think they’ll have a one or two year opening at both a US Open Cup and MLS Cup titles. But without Mason Toye, I’m not sure how this team looks offensively in three seasons.