“We still control our destiny,” was the consolation Wil Trapp offered after Minnesota United’s mid-week loss in Vancouver. “I said a few weeks ago I thought it would come down to the last game and nothing that happened on Wednesday has changed that,” was Adrian Heath’s take-away. But it was, of course, a rather big loss, dropping the Loons to 8th place in the West, out of the playoffs. It is true, for at least one more game, that Minnesota controls its destiny (MLS.com has done the math for us), but after everyone else took care of business midweek, this rare Sunday afternoon match against Sporting Kansas City, the last home game of the regular season, is a must win for Minnesota.
The only Saturday game in the West with playoff implications broke for Minnesota, as San Jose stole three points from Real Salt Lake, which means Minnesota can’t be eliminated this weekend. In a very weird final week, Salt Lake plays Portland on Wednesday, a difficult game in hand, as Seattle and LA Galaxy play on Monday, and LAFC faces Vancouver on Tuesday. And so for now, and again, the rest of the West remains wide open, with 5 points separating 4th place Portland from 9th place LAFC offering up a decision day that, it seems, really will be decision day.
After the disappointing game in Vancouver, the Loons will need to recover quickly. “It was a long travel day,” Michael Boxall said of the aftermath of the loss, “you have a lot of time to think about that ninety minutes.” There was a lot to think about as Minnesota again controlled much of the game but failed to score, conceding two easy goals off of mental lapses. It was a game that has become the defining style of the team this season.
But then, after that, it is simply time to go again. And so, Boxall continued, “It doesn’t really make a difference for me whether it’s gameday one with thirty-three games to go or it’s the season on the line. You go in with the same intentions and that’s to pick up three points, especially at home, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
To get three points at home Minnesota will not only have to put their previous game behind them but also their previous meeting against Kansas City, a 4-0 loss that Sporting won walking away. Kansas City comes into this afternoon’s game on a great run of form to finish the season, winning four of their last five. Having already clinched a playoff spot Kansas City, tied for first with Seattle but with a game in hand, is playing for a first round bye and a CONCACAF Champions league spot. They also, though, have an extra game this week, traveling to Austin on Wednesday. Head coach Peter Vermes has rarely rotated his team, and it is doubtful he will start today. But Sporting may come out on some tired legs.
Heading into the game Heath was focused on Kansas City’s big players. “You need your big players to come up and play well in big moments,” he said, noting Johnny Russell’s recent goal scoring run, now sitting on 14 goals for the season, and Dániel Sallói’s impressive season, tied for third in the league with 16 goals and possibly healthy again. Trapp was equally concerned with Russell and Sallói, but was also focused on their quality within the play of the team, recognizing that Kansas City is “great at isolating their wingers and creating danger from guys like Johnny [Russell] or Daniel Salloi, or Khiry Shelton is a danger as well. The back half of their team is very organized in how they want to break opponents down and how they get those guys in those moments and once that happens they can be very effective.”
Minnesota has a roster that should be able to compete in these big games, which is why the expectations for this season were for a top four finish. Emanuel Reynoso remains one of the league’s most creative players. Even as he has struggled out wide in the last two games Robin Lod has found, after a wasted first year, his scoring form. Franco Fragapane has been a revelation on the left, the most consistent forward player for the Loons. With Ozzie Alonso finding a shocking reserve of energy in his legs, Minnesota’s defense remains quite stingy, even as Michael Boxall, Bakaye Dibassy, and Tyler Miller are all prone to the occasional mental lapse and individual error. Which is to say that the core of his team should be better than it has played. With two games to go, they will not only be trying to make the playoffs but to also finally find their form.
In a season when so much has gone wrong and the club has failed on so many levels, this is truly a must win game.
Justin McMaster - out (thigh)
Sporting Kansas City:
Dániel Sallói - questionable (ankle)
Jaylin Lindsey out - (hamstring)
Alan Pulido - out (knee)
Felipe Hernández - suspended