Minnesota United FC have made the playoffs twice in their brief MLS history and twice they’ve hosted playoff games. In an era of MLS expansion, DPs and parity, this is no small feat and should be applauded. Head coach Adrian Heath may never say “we’re satisfied, and where we want to be,” but they’re certainly headed in the right direction.
This is a Minnesota team that played its first two matches on the road, winning both, before the MLS season was paused. Then they went to Orlando and played in the MLS is Back Tournament. And then, six months after the season officially began, the Loons hosted a home game.
It’s a Minnesota team that finished 2019 with the MLS Defender and Goalkeeper of the Year. The man between the sticks, Vito Mannone, returned to Reading after his loan expired. Then he was loaned to Esbjerg fB in Denmark and just a few months ago signed a two-year deal with Monaco in Ligue 1. All this to say Minnesota have worked their way back to the playoffs without him. Defender of the Year Ike Opara featured in the first two matches and notched two goals. He hasn’t featured since.
For the Loons to earn their way back to hosting a home playoff game after losing such key pieces to their defense is incredible and demonstrates the quality of a coach like Heath. His guys know his system, they know how he wants them to play and he puts them in the best position to win.
Another key to success for Minnesota has been the return of midfielder Kevin Molino. He suffered a knee injury in 2018 and worked his way back into the team for part of 2019, but the quality wasn’t where it had been prior to the malady. But in 2020, Molino is playing the best soccer of his career. His 0.78 G+A/90 is his best since joining MLS in 2015, aside from his productive yet injury shortened 2018, and he was a finalist for MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
In September, the Loons added Argentine midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. He’s played just 826 minutes but already tallied seven assists (one coming against the Rapids last month.) That’s good for 0.65 assists per 90 minutes. It’s best in MLS among players who have played at least 400 minutes. It’s an undeniable level of quality for a team that was looking for that link between the midfield and attack.
But perhaps the most important aspect to this Minnesota team has been their revelation at goalkeeper. Facing question marks and uncertainty following the expiration of Mannone’s loan, Minnesota went to LAFC and acquired Tyler Miller. It seemed like a good fit, but Miller unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury after just five appearances. After trying Greg Ranjitsingh, Heath settled on a young Canadian named Dayne St. Clair.
St. Clair grabbed the gloves and hasn’t relinquished his spot since. He’s made 13 appearances has six clean sheets. His 46.2% clean sheet percentage is tops in MLS among goalkeepers with at least 10 starts. His 80 % save percentage is fifth-best in the league. He’s faced two penalties and the opposition is 0-for-2 against him, with one save and one miss. St. Clair arrived out of nowhere and appears to be here to stay. The good news for the Rapids is in the seven games he’s conceded goals, he’s conceded multiple goals in five of them.
That will be the key for the Colorado: creating attacking chances early and often. And knowing that if you can just get one past the Loons’ defense, the opportunity for more should present itself. It’s the playoffs, it’s win or go home, single elimination and it’s on the road. The silver lining for the Rapids on the road is nobody in MLS won more road games than the Burgundy Boys.