It took just one meeting with Alphonso Davies to pop Minnesota’s slowly-swelling balloon. The Loons had won four straight home games, three of them in the span of eight days, and some were starting to whisper that Minnesota – finally! – had figured things out. The offense was clicking. The defense was – well, it wasn’t clicking, but at least the offense had managed to bail out the back line a few times. Those playoff whispers didn’t seem so crazy.
And then the Loons went on the road, and it was out with the new, in with the old.
All of the hallmarks of Minnesota’s last two seasons, especially on the road, were present and accounted for in Vancouver. Porous defense. Terrible decisions by players who still unaccountably find themselves in the starting lineup every game. Getting played off the field for eighty minutes, then furiously dragging back a couple of goals before the other team got the final word.
When the dust cleared, it was 4-2 Vancouver. Davies, the 17-year-old phenom that had just been sold to Bayern Munich (and loaned back to the Whitecaps) for an MLS-record $22 million, celebrated with two goals and two assists. Vancouver leapfrogged Minnesota in the chase for the playoffs. And Minnesota cemented itself as the league’s worst road team (nine losses in ten games).
These clips have been making the rounds, but I want to add them here just to highlight the worst two moments of an ugly loss:
— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) July 29, 2018
MNUFC bring their CBs up for the long throw. Then they take the throw short. And then Schuller turns the ball right into a defender. And then they turn it over. And then the 'Caps shove it down their throat.https://t.co/Pm2i7FVZCw
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 29, 2018
Those are terrible plays! Also they’re representative of Minnesota’s road games all season.
A few facts about Minnesota’s road record so far in 2018:
I list this litany of away-day facts because I want to stress just how much the road will matter to United’s playoff chances, and just how unprepared they seem to be for that battle.
Saturday, the Loons host the Seattle Sounders, but after that it’s a five-game road trip, with away games against the Los Angeles Galaxy, FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United, and Real Salt Lake.
The Sounders have won three straight and are unbeaten in six. The Galaxy have won four of five, and are unbeaten in seven. FC Dallas is the best team in the Western Conference, and hasn’t lost a home game for more than a calendar year now.
Not only did Minnesota lose on the road against Sporting KC already this year, the Loons have never beaten KC at Children’s Mercy Park. They’ve only ever even scored one goal. You have to go back to the 2005 U.S. Open Cup, when K.C. was the Wizards and Minnesota was the Thunder and the game was held at an NAIA college field, to find the last time Minnesota won away against Kansas City.
Oh, and as for the last two games of the road trip: D.C. United is settling into its new stadium, and Real Salt Lake plays at 4,500 feet above sea level and rarely loses at home.
By the time this trip is over, there will be just six games left in United’s season. Four of the last six are at home, which is nice, but if Minnesota is going to make the playoffs then it needs to not only survive until September 22, but pick up ground on the Western Conference field.
Currently, Minnesota has 1.27 points per game. Assuming it needs to pick up that rate over the next six games, it needs at least nine points from those six – and depending on Saturday’s result against Seattle, all nine points would potentially have to come on the road.
I’d list out the keys to doing so, but – well, go re-watch the clips above. If his team is going to do ridiculous things like that on the road, Adrian Heath could give his team the most foolproof game plan and the most daring, innovative tactical setup of the year, and Minnesota would still find a way to lose every game 4-0.
Just that one meeting with Vancouver, that one flattening by Alphonso Davies and company, and all of the Minnesota United optimism is gone. Now comes the hard part for the Loons. Now comes the part of the year that will define 2018.