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What to Watch For: Seattle Sounders FC vs. MNUFC

After Michael Boxall steered a header past LAFC’s goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega in the 75th minute to cancel out Carlos Vela’s record-tying 31st MLS goal, it looked as if the Loons might take full points from Sunday night’s final regular season home game. When the dust settled – with multiple posts hit and glorious one-on-ones spurned – the two sides shared a point in a 1-1 draw. MNUFC would have to wait until the last game of the season to potentially secure a home playoff game. Now that Decision Day is officially upon us, the Loons face a final regular season road test as they look to clinch the second seed in the Western Conference by defeating Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field. With Seattle taking just two losses at home this season, this afternoon will prove a tough task for the Loons as a sellout crowd is expected to watch the return of Osvaldo Alonso and to roar Sounders FC to its own home playoff game.

The Captain Returns
In modern soccer, where money often talks, the idea of a player’s loyalty to a club and its fans has seemingly begun to phase itself out of the game. Osvaldo Alonso went against the grain, though, spending a decade with Seattle Sounders FC and only departing the club when his contract wasn’t renewed by the club last summer. In his 10 seasons with Seattle, Alonso led his side as captain and hoisted six major trophies: MLS Cup in 2016, the Supporters’ Shield in 2014 and the U.S. Open Cup in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. In 2017, Alonso became the first player in Sounders FC history to play over 20,000 minutes for the club, racking up a total of 25,563 minutes in MLS regular season and postseason play. During Seattle’s 2016 MLS Playoffs campaign — which ended with the club’s first-ever MLS Cup — Alonso played in all 543 minutes of the run. This included playing through a knee injury to go 120 grueling minutes in the 2016 MLS Cup Final at a frigid BMO Field against Toronto FC. Heading into this season’s playoffs with Minnesota United, Alonso has started in all but one of the 25 playoff games that he featured in for Seattle. Look for Alonso to receive an overwhelmingly receptive welcome from the Sounders FC faithful as he makes his return to Seattle.

Everything to Play For
While five teams – LAFC, Minnesota United, Seattle Sounders FC, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake – have already clinched a spot in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs entering this year’s Decision Day, the lack of disparity in point totals among the five sides means that potential playoff seeding remains wide open. While the Loons and Sounders are level on 53 points and hold identical 15-10-8 records, MNUFC holds a slight advantage with a +10 goal differential – well ahead of Seattle’s +2 goal differential. A Decision Day win over Seattle would guarantee the Loons a Round One playoff game at Allianz Field. If Minnesota United were to win that game, Allianz Field would play host to the winner of the Round One three and six seed game. Holding the two seed could prove invaluable as this would potentially avoid a matchup with the Supporters Shield holders, LAFC, until the Western Conference Finals – bar LAFC losing in its Western Conference Semifinal. While a tie or a loss would not be ideal for Minnesota United, it could still foreseeably play at least one playoff game at Allianz Field if other results around the Western Conference fall its way. Watch for both sides to come out flying as they will understand the implications that these 90 minutes could have on making a deep playoff run or dropping out early. For a full breakdown of this afternoon’s playoff scenario, click here: https://utd.mn/2oEJITb.

Record-Setting Regular Season
With one game left to play in a groundbreaking regular season, the Loons have already shattered a plethora of club records in their third year as an MLS franchise. Many expansion sides struggle to acclimate to the league in their first few years, and Minnesota United was no exception. As its third MLS regular season ends, MNUFC has since gotten over the expansion hump and is now one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs – a phrase many Loons fans wouldn’t dare to utter in past years. While the debate will continue about what spurred a franchise best regular season for the Loons – a brand new stadium where the home side has suffered just one loss, signing potential MLS defender of the year Ike Opara, adding that winning mentality in Jan Gregus or signing a proven leader in Osvaldo Alonso – the collective numbers don’t lie. With three points still to play for, Minnesota United has stacked up 53 points this season, 17 more than the 36 point marks the club achieved in 2017 and 2018. The 53-point total guarantees the Loons at least a fifth-place finish and at best a second-place finish, with either result the highest they’ve climbed in the table to finish the season. Along the way, Minnesota United has also racked up its most wins in a season (15), lost its fewest number of games (10), averaged its highest points per game return (1.61 ppg), scored its most goals (52), conceded its fewest goals (42), held its best goal differential (+10) and qualified for its first-ever MLS playoffs. With a final game in hand, look for the Loons to improve on an already historic 2019 MLS season.