MNUFC Mailbag: Playoff scenarios, Heath on the hot seat + Friday training notebook

In their final Friday training session of the 2022 MLS regular season, Minnesota United FC prepared for the defining moment of the campaign: Decision Day 2022. The Loons are set to host the Vancouver Whitecaps at Allianz Field in their final match of the regular season on Sunday, October 9 at 4:00 pm CT.

An MNUFC spokesperson told SotaSoccer.com that the match is set to break attendance records at Allianz Field, with an estimated 20,000 (including standing room) set to take in the sights Sunday afternoon. The Loons postseason fate is on the line, as is the Whitecaps, as Minnesota needs either a win or a draw to clinch a spot in the 2022 MLS playoffs. For Vancouver, things are more complicated as they need three points and a few results to go their way around the league.

One note to remember, however, is that Kervin Arriaga is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation.

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Loons head coach Adrian Heath told media Friday that they have all available personnel – minus season-ending injuries – available for Sunday’s contest. That includes versatile playmaker Robin Lod, who has missed the past 2.5 matches and fullback Romain Metanire, who has been plagued with injuries all season. The only exception is winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who isn’t up to match fitness yet. However, Hlongane was seen doing full-field sprints at the training session Friday while Heath added that he’s someone who could be ready “next week” if the Loons advance to the postseason.

Sunday’s contest at Allianz Field has been dubbed a “Blackout” and those in attendance are being asked to wear all-black to fit the match theme. The expected sellout (and then some) currently has standing-only ticket prices going for $67 on the secondhand market. The expectation is that the match is going to be the most lively we have ever heard at Allianz Field.

Sotasoccer.com will have Decision Day coverage coming your way LIVE from Allianz Field.

Mailbag: answering your looming questions regarding all things Loons

Great question. Here is my offseason moves priority list.

  1. Young central defender, left or right sided.
  2. A DP attacker who can play on the left or right side of the pitch.
  3. A defensive midfielder who has both size and skill that can play alongside Arriaga.

If the Loons bow out in the first round (assuming they clinch) simply put, it’s likely a failure for a team that went on an 8-1-2 summer run. However, it depends on who they play, frankly. 

Scenarios. We love scenarios – right?! I’ll only focus on the West here, though, as the Eastern Conference has no implications on MNUFC.

  • LAFC | 67 points
    • they’re the confirmed No. 1 overall seed in the West with 67 points and will host a playoff game along with having a first-round bye.
  • Austin FC | 55 points
    • Josh Wolff’s side are confirmed as the No. 2 seed in the West with 55 points and will host a playoff game.

Now things get fun. Spots 3-7 in the West are not settled and there are eight total teams who can technically clinch one of the five playoff spots. Quick note: Tiebreakers first go by # of wins and then goal-differential.

  • FC Dallas | 50 points
    • FC Dallas have clinched a playoff spot and are now in the hunt to host a home playoff game. The only scenario in which they do not host a playoff game is both Nashville and the Galaxy take three points on decision day, FCD loses and Nashville goes ahead of them on goal-differential (They’re currently tied at +10).
  • LA Galaxy | 47 points
    • The LA Galaxy have officially clinched a playoff spot and are now in the hunt for a home playoff game. To host a playoff game they need to better Nashville SC’s result on Sunday.
  • Nashville SC | 47 points
    • Nashville have already clinched a playoff spot, and they’re now in the hunt to host a playoff game. If they can better the Galaxy result on Sunday, then they host. However, a loss takes them out of that running. If the Galaxy lose to Houston, RSL beats Portland, Nashville draws LAFC and MNUFC beats Vancouver, the Loons host. If in the same scenario the Loons draw Vancouver, Nashville hosts. Got i
  • Portland | 46 points
    • Portland can clinch a spot in the 2022 MLS playoffs with a win or a draw against RSL. There is no scenario where they advance with a loss, due to MNUFC and Vancouver playing each other on Sunday, as the Loons hold the tiebreaker over them if the two sides draw and Vancouver holds the tiebreaker over them if the Whitecaps win. To clinch a home playoff game, Portland would need to beat RSL and they would need the Galaxy to lose/draw and Nashville to lose/draw.
  • MNUFC | 45 points
    • Minnesota will clinch a spot in the 2022 MLS playoffs with a win or a draw against Vancouver. A draw would see them level on points with Portland, but they would clinch due to criteria points. The Loons are still in the hunt for a home playoff game, as well, and for that to happen the following would need to happen: MNUFC win, Nashville loss/draw, Galaxy loss.
  • RSL | 44 points
    • RSL are in must-win territory due to criteria points. Despite being one point behind the Loons, even if the two sides ended Sunday level on points Minnesota would advance due to a higher # of wins. RSL hosts the Timbers, and if they claim three points, then things get interesting. RSL would advance with a win AND an MNUFC draw/loss, as they would be on 47 points and Minnesota would be at either 45 or 46. RSL cannot host a home playoff game.
  • Vancouver | 43 points
    • The Whitecaps are the biggest longshot headed into Decision Day, but nothing is impossible. They are in must-win territory – a loss to the Loons and they’re eliminated. The Whitecaps need three points to secure a playoff berth, and due to criteria points, they don’t need to worry about the Portland-RSL result. Simply put: Win and you’re in.

Maximizing the potential of this group is the key to taking any points at Allianz Field on Sunday. We have learned that the Loons best formation is the 4-2-3-1 with Emanuel Reynoso being the central figure. Using the team who is available Sunday – I think it really comes down to who Heath selects in the midfield. With Robin Lod available, where does he play? 

Mender Garcia has struggled of late playing as a right wing, where he is naturally an 8, but with no Arriaga available for selection on Sunday, Lod slotting into the midfield might make more sense.

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What can be fixed is the constant sloppy giveaways centrally. The midfield pairing of Wil Trapp and Kervin Arriaga has not worked much of the season, as the two do not play off of the strengths of each other. It looks like the midfield will be Lod and Trapp on Sunday, with Garcia at RW but the other option is Joseph Rosales or Jonathan Gonzalez alongside Trapp in the midfield with Lod up top on the right.

If the Loons can hold the ball and play to the strengths of each other, the goals will come. The issue has been that the Loons attack, midfield and defense have all been playing separate of late. They have been sporting three different teams on the pitch, instead of one. Coming together and playing as a unit is the most important factor looking to Sunday.

I think it’s fair to say Heath’s seat is hot. The bare-minimum expectation for the club going into the 2023 campaign was to make the playoffs – and now – they’re leaving it up to the final day of the regular season.

However, I don’t think his seat is burning.

There’s a lot to take into consideration when talking about this, and it’s important to know that losing the likes of Dotson, Dibassy, Hayes and Metanire for these extended periods were never in the plans. However, it’s also a coach’s role to adapt and get the best out of his team. The Loons biggest mistake in 2022 was not using the transfer window to bring in a young central defender who can compete for a first-team starting role. With both Boxall and Dibassy aging, they were betting on either getting injured or suspended to end the 2022 season. They lost the bet and are now suffering the consequences.

If the Loons fail to win on Sunday, however, I think there will be a lot of questions posed to whether or not Heath is the right person to lead the team in 2023.

I think this really comes down to the midfield partnership in the double pivot & playing off of the centre back pairing that is now Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman. 

I’ve frequently mentioned it this season, but Trapp and Arriaga as a midfield partnership results in far too many giveaways. Pair that with Kallman, the backup LCB, who is not particularly known for being excellent at playing out of the back and you get Kallman sitting deeper than usual and two midfielders ahead of him who are not on the same page. A lot then rests on Boxall and Lawrence to get the ball back and/or recover in those situations.

Tightening up the midfield, reducing unnecessary giveaways and getting Kallman on-track with the left-sided midfielder and Boxall is a great start.

Losing on Sunday would be the worst thing for the club, long-term, in my eyes. The Loons making the playoffs helps the confidence of every player on the team and instills belief in the personnel – all staff members, not just technical.

Making the playoffs is also a good look for incoming prospects. Players want to join a team that consistently makes it to the postseason – not a team who collapses late and finds themselves watching other teams compete over the final month of the 2022 season.

The Gonzalo Higuaín resurgence has been a blast to watch, honestly. Leo Campana, too – everything seemed to finally click in the second half of the season and it has been a blast to watch them excel (in seemingly dominant fashion, too). Having a defensive component like Deandrea Yedlin – who is likely to be on the USMNT plane to Qatar – has been huge too. He’s a veteran who has been in these situations before and he has played outstanding for Inter Miami of late. Plaudits all-around to Phil Neville.

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