When Minnesota United FC fell to Austin FC 1-0 on the road at Q2 stadium in week 6 of the 2022 MLS season, the Loons sat 2-2-2 through six weeks of play. Uproar on social media followed the result against Austin, with fans and supporters of the club claiming “mediocrity” on the pitch while shouts for the sacking of head coach Adrian Heath filled the mentions of the club’s official twitter account (and my own). Positive results in weeks seven and eight followed, with the Loons taking all six points available.
Let’s backtrack a bit and look at how the Loons have done through the first eight weeks of the season and talk through some perspective: The Loons are doing exactly what should be expected of them.
MNUFC began the season on the road in Philadelphia and then returned home to Nashville SC in week two, both of whom were 2021 playoff sides. They secured two back-to-back draws in impressive, yet resilient, performances. The peak came in week three, when the Loons won 1-0 on the road against RBNY, with Dayne St. Clair putting on a goalkeeping clinic between the sticks. Week four saw the Loons claim all three points against San Jose at Allianz Field in a narrow 1-0 victory.
So, through four weeks, the Loons sat 2-0-2. Minnesota began the 2021 season 0-4, if you recall. Week five saw the Loons fall to the Seattle Sounders – arguably the most consistently good franchise in Major League Soccer every season – 2-1 at Allianz Field. Mind you, the Sounders are also in the FINAL of the Concacaf Champions League despite a not-so-great start to their 2022 MLS season. That’s pretty dang good still.
Then comes week six, the loss at Q2 stadium against Austin FC. With the win against the Loons, Austin saw themselves… wait, hold up… top of the Western Conference? Yes. Top of the Western Conference after week six. That’s a pretty incredible feat for a club that many did not expect to start out as hot as they have in 2022.
The claims of mediocrity followed with the second-straight loss, but the presumption that the club was in downfall and that it was time to move on from Heath were what really baffled me. The Loons lost two straight against two of the hottest teams in American soccer – that’s not something to be too upset about, considering both losses were also single-goal-margins. Dips in form happen.
Step up week seven: a three-match-week for the Loons, with a midweek bout in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against Forward Madison SC of the USL League One, and two league matches opposite the Cup tie.
A 3-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids at Allianz Field was followed by a 2-0 victory over FMSC at Breese Stevens Field midweek. Then came week eight, home against the Chicago Fire, with 17-year-old prodigy goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina in net and former European heavyweight forward Xhedran Shaqiri leading the lines as a newly acquired designated player. The Fire had only conceded two goals all season in league play, with Slonina having five shutouts along the way.
The Loons put on a dominant performance at Allianz Field, scoring three second half goals to win 3-0 and close out the three-match-week with three ones.
The week seven, into week eight, response from the Loons felt like a statement from the players: fans and supporters’ claims of mediocrity were not only unwarranted, but rash and far too early into the 2022 campaign. The Loons are exactly where they should be.
The week seven and eight results from the Loons, substitute decisions and tactic changes from Adrian Heath led to FIVE of the six goals scored over the two matches from the Loons. Heath’s substitution patterns during his tenure in Minnesota have long been an area of criticism for him, but in recent showings, Heath has shown no fear in making early changes in both personnel and tactics. It’s fair to say that both week seven and eight results came as a result of the changes Heath made, too.
Eight weeks into the season, the Loons are exactly where they should be. They started slow, found their groove, had a small set back and now, have made a giant leap forward. They sit 5th in the West, are one point out from a home playoff game and three points out from Western Conference leaders, Austin FC.