It’s been a rough few days for Minnesota United. Fans could be forgiven for pressing their panic buttons. Right on the heels of one of the most successful runs in Loons history, Minnesota had one of their worst weeks of the past few years.
- Beat Houston, a team that appeared to have been introduced to each other for the first time in the tunnel before the match, only thanks to two late goals.
- Lost 3-0 to conference rival Real Salt Lake, in a game where it took Minnesota almost an hour to register a shot – not a shot on target, but an attempted shot of any kind.
- Lost 3-0 to conference rival Dallas, at home, in a game where the Loons gave up three goals in three minutes, just the sixth time in the history of MLS that one team has allowed three goals in three minutes or fewer.
- Lost Bakaye Dibassy, perhaps the team’s best defender, to a season-ending injury.
- Saw Emanuel Reynoso, the team’s best player, limp off multiple times against Dallas, to the point that he’s doubtful for the weekend.
- Saw Franco Fragapane earn two silly yellow cards against Dallas despite being at disciplinary risk, earning himself a two-game suspension – one for yellow card accumulation, one for getting sent off.
Disaster! It’s panic time! LOONS IN CRISIS, SEASON ON THE BRINK!
Let’s just look at a few other crisis points for the Loons, over the last couple of years.
Coming out of the international break this season, Minnesota blew second-half leads in two consecutive games, losing to both New England and Miami and leaving their season teetering on the edge of disaster. Their response: three consecutive wins and a club-record seven-game point streak.
After six games this season, the Loons had just five goals, and they’d lost two consecutive games where they’d created very little offensively. Their response: back-to-back three-goal games, and two wins.
Last season, in mid-October, they lost a home game against Colorado that has to rate as one of the team’s worst losses ever. Up 1-0, at home, with Colorado down to ten men, Minnesota somehow contrived to allow three goals and lose 3-1, with the team hovering right around the playoff line. It was such a disaster that it didn’t completely seem like a guarantee that no one would be fired.
Their response: winning away at Austin, then gutting out a 3-2 home win against a very good Philadelphia team.
A month before that, they had been hammered 4-0 at Sporting Kansas City, a disasterclass of a game that felt almost exactly like their Real Salt Lake loss last week – a case study in “what if everything went wrong, all at once.” Their response: three days later, they destroyed the LA Galaxy 3-0 at home.
It seems clear, to me at least, that professional athletes simply do not respond to disastrous games like the fans in the stands. While we’re mashing panic buttons and sounding sirens, they’ve already moved on to the next thing.
“At some point, we were going to lose one, or maybe two,” said Loons left back Kemar Lawrence. “Especially going into the end of the season right now, everybody’s oiled, everybody’s ready, everybody knows their team and what their team is about by now. I don’t feel like we’re nervy, I don’t feel like we’re overconfident… I don’t think we need to do anything special.
“If we show up being that team that’s ready for anything, with that mindset that we’re playing 98 minutes – if we can show up with that confidence and that personality, we’ll run people over.”
Lawrence, and the Loons, aren’t looking at this the same way as you and me, where it feels like everything’s collapsing. Michael Boxall even looked at as a wake-up call, following the loss to Dallas. “It’s awful to have this kind of result in front of our fans, but we still have five games to go,” he said. “We need to really pick ourselves up. We’re lucky we have these warnings now, rather than late October.”
And for Lawrence, the end of the season is less about panic and more about opportunity. “For me, this is the best part of the season, personally,” he said. “This is when I show what I came here to do, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
Nothing’s going to be easy – it never seems to be with the Loons, and it especially won’t be easy without Dibassy and Fragapane and possibly without Reynoso. But Minnesota has been in crisis before, sometimes about once a month, and they always seem to bounce back quickly.