Sporting Kansas City battered an already bruised Minnesota United, whose thin squad struggled to find form in the difficult road match. After a 1-1 draw with the top team in the conference earlier in the week, heading into the game, it seemed as though MNUFC’s recent struggles may be in the rearview. Despite not earning their desired results in the previous two games, the team was playing well, creating opportunities, and holding it together defensively. Saturday night’s game, however, saw fatigue, injury, and the loss of two major midfield weapons overwhelm the Loons, who were unable to step up to the difficult task.
“We were all over the place,” said defender DJ Taylor. “Individually, we weren’t doing enough whether that was running or winning our one-v-one battles. That’s the majority of the thing. Guys were kind of just reacting to things instead of being proactive with it. Just individually, and collectively, we weren’t doing enough.”
The game was fraught with difficulty from the start, with the Loons playing on the back foot and SKC pressing with lightning speed. Things went from chaotic to glum after an own goal in the 31st minute put Kansas City up 1-0.
“It’s tough. When you dig a hole for yourself away, especially away, it’s tough,” said Taylor. “Especially in the MLS, it’s tough to play away and get points. When you let in the first goal [on the road], it’s tough mentally for a team. It’s way better to go to half zero-zero and hopefully you get your goal or two and keep winning.”
For a banged-up Loons side, letting in one goal would have been task enough to overcome, but SKC was able to find the net two more times before the close of the half. “It seems to me every time we make a mistake, it ends up in the back of the net,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “As I’ve said before, if you concede three, four goals, you’re not winning many games.”
Frustrations ran high as the squad tried to find a way to press the other way. However, for some reason, energy continued to run low, even with goals that would usually ignite anger and urgency.
“Lack of energy. Back foot,” said Heath. “Went backwards every opportunity that we had. Completely gave all of the initiative to them [Sporting Kansas City]. Second half, there were a few choice words at halftime and people get out of their own comfort zone, get the opposition out of theirs, then you can actually make a game of it. You actually look like you can play football. First half, we were awful. Poor performances, poor energy levels. Second half was a bit better.”
The second half was indeed an improvement for the Loons who connected the ball better and had a few opportunities on goal. One of those opportunities led to a karate-kick goal by Ménder García, his first with MNUFC. “I thought it was a really good finish,” said Heath. “He worked really, really hard. Probably deserved his goal with his energy. Did a job that he probably doesn’t like so much. Maybe he could have had a couple more, as two or three had gone across the face of the goal. I would have expected Luis [Amarilla] or Ménder [García] to be on the end of them. Now that takes you to 3-2. That makes it, changes the game.”
At this point in the season, this loss is a tough one, leaving only two games for MNUFC to earn a spot in the playoffs, and more importantly, find the form needed to be successful deep into the postseason. The good news is, the international break has come at just the right time for the team to rest and hopefully help the injured players return to 100% — which will be particularly important given how thin the Loons are at the moment.
“Brent’s [Kallman] had a sore foot for a while and Kemar [Lawrence] has not been 100% for two or three weeks,” said Heath. “We can’t push them too hard in training for a fear of breaking down because at this moment in time, we’re down to bare bones. We really are. At certain positions, we can ill afford to have anymore injuries.”
Injuries and fatigue aside, the break will give the team time to reflect on what is needed moving forward.
“Win. We definitely just need a win,” said DJ Taylor. “We need to pull ourselves together, look at ourselves individually first and then collectively look at us. Look at the things that went wrong, look at the things when things were good. We’ve been playing good this past season, whether that’s away or home. Sharpen up on those things and take this time to rest, mentally refresh and get back at it. We’re still one of the best teams in the league, for sure, and that’s the way we want to finish.”
After the international break, MNUFC heads to California to face the 14th place San Jose Earthquakes. Though they are well below the playoff line, if anything can be learned from the match against SKC, it is to never underestimate your opponent. The Loons need to win the next two games to guarantee themselves a playoff spot, so it is imperative that they lace up their boots and really show up in the match against the Quakes.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United FC
PayPal Park | San Jose, California
10.01.2022 | MLS Game No. 33
9:00 p.m. CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)