In arguably their most important win of the season yet, Minnesota United salvaged three points on the road against Nashville SC Sunday evening in a Western Conference showcase event.
The match, being broadcast on national TV via FOX Sports 1, saw the Loons score late through mid-summer arrival Alan Benitez to secure a 2-1 road victory over Nashville. Sunday marked Minnesota’s sixth road win of the campaign – a club record – and man-oh-man… was it important.
The Loons showcased their talent, securing all three points and furthering themselves from the pack in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot. Occupying the 4th place spot at the end of the match week, MNUFC now has a five-point gap between them and the dreaded red playoff line. They’ve also closed in on 3rd place FC Dallas, who are now just one point ahead of the Loons.
The importance of this win cannot be overstated. Here are five reasons why:
1.) National Exposure
Everyone with cable (or a relative willing to offer their login) was able to tune in and see the Loons in action. The MLS TV rights deal with ESPN+ at the moment is really great for any out-of-market viewers. However, the only people watching are those that are directly searching for the match. MLS fans in general. Having a match on a major network television channel, primetime on a Sunday night… It’s huge. It draws in average viewers, European soccer fans and just sports fans in general. For the Loons to put on a performance of that caliber, with this kind of audience watching… the exposure is massive for the club. A really, really important win.
Emanuel Reynoso finding Franco Fragapane for a beauty of an opening goal opened the national audience to the current form of this MNUFC attack, and Benitez burying the winner late on showed Minnesota can score from anywhere.
2.) Clearance Off the Line
Arguably the most important takeaway from the match, the Loons are now five points clear of the playoff line. Their mid-summer form has been impeccable and they’re unbeaten in eight of their last nine matches. Every single player has stepped it up of late, noting the likes of Robin Lod, Emanuel Reynoso, Luis Amarilla and Dayne St. Clair.
If the Loons can maintain their current form, I see zero reason as to why they won’t earn a home playoff game come October. The Loons are flying.
3.) Club-Record Six Road Wins
The sixth road victory of the Loons campaign marks a club record, and with nine matches to go – four on the road – MNUFC has a chance to shatter that record even more. As things stand, they’re above .500 on the road at 6-6-1 – which is beyond impressive. Only four other sides in Major league Soccer boast a better record on the road.
“We came in with the mindset that we can win anywhere and we can beat anyone,” said Dayne St. Clair postgame. “We know right now the West is really tight, so although these games are away, we need to find a way to get points. I think going in with that mindset and we continue to do so because it is so tight in the West, every point is going to be valuable coming into the end of the season.”
4.) Reynoso Outshined Mukhtar
In a battle between two MVP candidates for this current campaign, and arguably the two best No. 10s in the league, Reynoso outshined his fellow MLS All-Star on the night. The magic of the Argentine’s laces danced in, out and around the Nashville box. Reynoso assisted on the Loons opening goal and set up their second, the eventual winner. Mukhtar did find himself on the scoresheet for Nashville with their lone goal, but on a night where each team needed their star to flourish on the pitch, Reynoso moreso understood the assignment.
5.) Dayne St. Clair = Immaculate
DSC made seven saves on a night where the Loons desperately needed him. He was an absolute brick wall in net and deservedly, earned the Player of the Match award from Minnesota. His performance also saw him end up in the MLS Team of the Week as the starting goalkeeper.
“Coming out of the Colorado game, it’s no secret that I cost us points on the road there,” said St. Clair. “So being able to bounce off that game and have a mental refresh at the All-Star was big for me. To put on a good performance there, it was nice as well. Like I said, during that game I’m using that game to keep pushing because more importantly is the games for Minnesota this year. I’m glad that I was able to have a performance like that tonight.”
Following his blunders in Colorado, where he made two goalkeeping errors that led to goals, St. Clair earned the MLS All-Star game MVP award midweek and followed that up with a top goalkeeping performance against Nashville.
The importance of that performance extends far beyond one match and one win.