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After struggling to find their footing the past few games, Minnesota United came through in a big way to earn a playoff berth Sunday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps. With both teams fighting for a spot in the postseason, it was MNUFC that were solid enough in every phase of the game to ultimately overcome an in-form Vancouver squad – in the Fan Appreciation game, no less.

“Obviously relieved,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath on the win. “It’s really pleasing because, as I said, the six games prior to today don’t define the season…I’m just so pleased for the players because I think at times people think players don’t care. They do and I thought they showed that today. And you know our support today was unbelievable and it was, and I knew they’d turn up, I just wanted to make sure we did, and I thought that we did.” 

The fan turnout at the match was truly incredible. With Allianz Field packed with a record-setting 19,941 fans in attendance  – many of them following the Blackout theme – the boys in Black and Blue had all the support they needed to push through to victory. After the game, midfielder and captain Wil Trapp was one of the many Loons who expressed his appreciation for the raucous fans. “Our crowd is always excellent,” said Trapp. “But tonight, with what was on the line and what was at stake, they really fed us and tried everything they possibly could to help.”

Midfielder Jonathan González would agree with that sentiment, especially after notching his first MLS goal. “It’s great, I've never seen something like it,” said González. “It’s great to experience. Being on the field, we can feel the good energy and the good vibes from them. We’re just really glad that they’ve been supporting us, and we’re giving our all for them on the field.”

The match kicked off early with a few dangerous shots on goal from Vancouver, but they were handled well by goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. Throughout the match, St. Clair’s sturdy play in the box was crucial to the Loons playoff-clinching win. “For me, personally, if you can make a big save early on, it gives you that confidence to keep boasting,” said St. Clair. “And I think as the game slowed down, we were able to show our quality and hit them on the counter when they lost balls in critical areas.”

A big nod can be given to St. Clair and the back line, forming up for not just a win but a clean sheet – the first one since July. “It's definitely been a long time,” said St. Clair. “I think having five clean sheets for the season, for [a team] of our standards, isn’t good enough and something we’re gonna need to build on going into next year. But to have this moment in this game when it mattered, shows that defense is gonna be important going into these playoff games.”

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This year has been especially challenging for the Loons, who have battled through injuries and suspensions all year long, taking the brunt of those misfortunes over the past six games. However, Decision Day saw the team rise to the occasion, stepping up to earn the win and snap out of their recent back-footedness. “I think this [season’s] been a lot more challenging,” said Heath. “I really do, with the injuries we’ve had and the amount of people we've missed. [When] we had that [unbeaten] run, the front four was virtually the same and all of a sudden you start to lose players…So it's been a challenge but everybody’s stepped up.”

In light of the difficult run of form the Loons have shown recently, everything came down to Decision Day. MNUFC had to rise to the occasion if they wanted to move forward, and they found motivation in the pressure to succeed. “When your back is against the wall, it’s do or die,” said Trapp. “And we are a team that understood that, into this week, it’s all we focused on. It’s one game, forget about what’s past, just understand who we are and put forth our best effort.”

Minnesota United looked solid on Sunday; the team moved well off the ball and positioned themselves in spots that thwarted many of Vancouver’s attacks. The comprehensive unit that showed up on Sunday night looked very much like the team that went on an eight-game unbeaten streak from June to July. 

“Someone told me this, but remember who you are,” said Trapp. “We are a team that when we put together performances where everyone is contributing and everyone is playing together and are positive, it’s a different team. It’s funny, it's like the ‘Lion King’ quote from Rafiki “remember who you are.” Legitimately, we just needed to remember that and understand this is who we are. And for us, you saw that tonight — you saw the comprehensive work of every single guy putting in a shift. The back line did an amazing job of moving the line up and back, never allowing Brian White or Lucas Cavallini or any of these guys to be comfortable.”

The confidence gained from this season-saving win will be huge for this team going into the postseason. It’s time to start anew, and time to make a playoff run. “It’s a fresh start,” said Trapp. “At the end of the day, the playoffs are a new season, and for us, going to a place that we have won before is a huge confidence factor…It’s not going to be easy, of course; playoff games are difficult. But having a game at home where everything was on the line, and to keep the clean sheet, was huge. So, going into this next week, we can take a lot of confidence. Understanding where that confidence comes from – it comes from energy and intensity and positivity moving forward.” 

With their playoff ticket now officially punched, Minnesota United is set to face the Western Conference’s third seed, FC Dallas, this upcoming Monday. The team is happy to be in the postseason race, but like any good competitors, getting there isn’t the end goal. “It’s a big achievement for us to make the playoffs, but based on where we’ve been in the past, making the playoffs isn’t good enough for us,” said St. Clair. “Now we need to go make a run here as well.”

In the two games Minnesota and Dallas have played against each other this season, the wins are split evenly to each side, with both dubs happening on the road. Minnesota United beat Dallas 2-1 in May, and Dallas beat Minnesota 3-0 in September after a seven-minute frenzy saw the team from Texas notch three goals against an otherwise solid Minnesota side. That sort of thing is hard to forget, and MNUFC will certainly use it as fuel as they set out to give Dallas a good thrashing on their own turf, one more time.

Heath has a lot of faith in his team as they move forward into the first round of the MLS playoffs. I do,” said Heath. “I just said on the TV that we’ve been to [LAFC] and won, we’ve been to the Galaxy and won, we’ve been to Dallas [FC], we’ve been to Nashville. This group can win games anywhere, and we’ve proven that in the past. Now, is it gonna be easy in Dallas? No, it's not. But do I think we can go down there and win? For sure I do, and anything’s possible!” Minnesota United got a dose of redemption in Sunday’s match, but will be looking to emulate their previous road success and taste victory against FC Dallas.

UP NEXT

FC Dallas vs. Minnesota United FC

Toyota Stadium | Frisco, Texas

10.17.2022 | MLS Cup Playoffs Round 1

8:30 p.m. CT (FS1, FOX Deportes, 1500 ESPN)