“You can’t wear black, John. Ya look like you’re goin’ to a funeral.”
“Maybe I am…”
I’m not one to assume, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that Johnny Cash wasn’t a soccer fan. If he was and you can prove it, by all means, please correct me…but I digress. I surfed my way to whatever channel was playing the film about Cash’s life, Walk The Line, a movie I’ve seen many times. Whether he actually said the quote above, I always thought Joaquin Phoenix’s response was, well, kind of badass. And, maybe because it was still so fresh in my mind, I thought about the Loons playoff-clinching win against Vancouver. Which led to me thinking about the atmosphere at Allianz Field that evening. The team had two requests in the days leading up to the match: 1. Be loud 2. Wear black
The home crowd understood the assignment and made good on the team’s request for a stadium “blackout.” When the request was made earlier in the week, I was curious to see fan reactions to the request. So, for better or worse, I made my way to the one place where positivity is in short supply, Twitter. Much of the commentary circulated around different variations of the same jab, so I’ll just summarize: “They want us to wear black because it’s going to be a funeral for our season.” With a 6-game winless streak coming into the match, which I can empathize with because…well, maybe it was.
Thankfully, there was no funeral for the Loons season, as an emphatic 2-0 win made certain that it remained very much alive. And, if you think about it as a whole, the 2022 Minnesota United squad has had more than its share of moments in which many believed the season was on death’s doorstep. For example, this past May, heartbreaking losses to LAFC, FC Cincinnati and Seattle put a damper on a promising start to the Loons season. Also in May, not to mention on our home turf, a brutal US Open Cup loss to Union Omaha of USL League One. Add another L to NYCFC before we could flip the calendar to June, and you’ve got yourself a season on the brink.
Dropping games to New England and Miami didn’t exactly change the prognosis when the season continued after the International Break. But, if the season had any kind of pulse left, the trip out west to face the Galaxy was this season’s version of the defibrillator paddles that shocked it back to life. It’s when Emanuel Reynoso had the breakout game we had been waiting for, showing us all how great of an impact he can have on this club as a scoring threat, as he hammered home a pair of beautiful goals. This was the start of a Loons 7-game streak without a loss, highlighted by a less-than-friendly 4-0 drubbing of Everton at Allianz Field. Friendly or not, with Everton playing a majority of its first-team players, it was impressive to see them not only win the matchup, but win it handily.
Eventually, what comes up, must come down and the roller coaster that is the 2022 season is no different. Down, as in a slew of season-ending injuries to the likes of Bakaye Dibassy, Romain Metanire and Jacori Hayes. Down, like losing our boy Bongi Hlongwane to injury with a long recovery, just as he was starting to hit his stride and up his game. Down, as in severalh yellow-card accumulation suspensions for pivotal players like Michael Boxall, Robin Lod, Emanuel Reynoso (twice) and Franco Fragapane, with Fragapane getting a yellow card in the FC Dallas loss on Sept. 3, triggering an accumulation suspension. Then in that same game, getting a second yellow, which became red, resulting in him having to sit out a second, separate game. That’s a lot to overcome for any team looking to stay in the mix of the Western Conference. In the home-stretch of the season, it could have been the final nails in the playoff coffin. But, as the boys showed against Vancouver, the 2022 MNUFC squad wasn’t ready to go quietly into the darkness of that good night. Ironically, not even in a “blackout.”
In fact, this 2022 roster is likely its most talented to date. Probably it’s more resilient, for that matter. Dayne St Clair wasn’t even the starting goalkeeper for the Loons when the season kicked off. Now, he’s the 2022 All-Star Game MVP. Who saw that coming (...if you say you did, you’re full of it)? Remember when Emanuel Reynoso didn’t have the quick start to the season we all thought he would? Yeah, me neither, as he has stepped up to be the “engine that makes the car go.” What about Kervin Arriaga’s breakout season? A new addition, playing through injuries and standing out to other club’s personnel as one of the most underrated signings of the season? It’s a long season and, even with its sporadic struggles throughout the course of a long season, this is a roster that has triumphed, failed, and triumphed again.
Now, it’s the playoffs. The very epitome of “Do or Die.” Just like the Vancouver game before it. But, as a fan and observer of both the highs and lows of the season, I take stock in a team that is as battle-tested through the good, bad and ugly, and the Loons of 2022 have seen all three this season. So, in the name of sports superstitions and the nature of the single-elimination playoff format, I’ll be sporting black again next Monday. Much like Johnny Cash’s line of thinking, maybe we are going to a funeral next Monday in Dallas.
But, maybe, it's not for us.
Last I checked, the roller coaster hasn’t thrown us off the ride yet. In fact, maybe we're just about to hit the next incline on the track, just like the 7-game streak without a loss during the summer months.
One thing is for sure though: with the obstacles they’ve faced this year, this team won’t be easy to kill.