MNUFC avoid catastrophe, qualify for 2022 MLS Playoffs on Decision Day

Minnesota United FC clinched a berth in the 2022 MLS playoffs Sunday evening, knocking off the Vancouver Whitecaps in a contentious 2-0 victory at Allianz Field. 

Going into the evening, the Loons were faced with a scenario where a win or a draw would see them through, whereas a loss would knock them out. For the fourth-straight year, the Loons will appear in the MLS postseason and for the fourth-straight year, Minnesota will make a run at MLS Cup.

However, getting to this moment hasn’t been an easy task and if Sunday’s result did not end in their favor, it would have been one of the most shocking catastrophic collapses in recent MLS years.

“Well, I said it the other day and I wasn’t being flippant when I said that people think that making the playoffs is, it’s not. Look at the teams that have not made the playoffs this year. Toronto, Seattle [Sounders], Portland [Timbers], Atlanta [United] you keep going,” head coach Adrian Heath said. “These are storied franchises that spend fortunes of money. It’s not easy, and we shouldn’t take it for granted but the players can, you know, a lot of pride in what we’ve done. Four years on the trot like I said it’s only a couple of teams that have done it.”

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Heading into Decision Day, the Loons were winless in their last six matches, hadn’t kept a clean-sheet in nearly three months and had failed to look the part of a playoff side in any of their recent showings. However, the storyline changed courtesy of an early Franco Fragapane goal. The Argentine’s opener was followed by a second half strike from LIGA MX loanee Jonathan Gonzalez and Minnesota’s fate was sealed. Postseason secured, a win on the final day of the regular season, and relief for MNUFC manager Adrian Heath.

“I’m always fired up; I love this job I’ve got. I love working here and today was really important for me. I wanted to keep this run going. And as I’ve said, I would love this to be my last job, and the only way it’s going to be my last job is if we keep being successful. Today’s another step in that direction.”

For Heath, that directional step was one that likely added another layer of safety to his job. Adding in the context of the final six weeks of the campaign, plus the hypothetical situation of losing on Decision Day, it would have meant they missed their target goal of the postseason in calamitous fashion.

Luckily for the Loons, that’s purely a hypothetical now. They beat the Whitecaps, clinched a spot in the playoffs and snapped their winless streak. Despite the tough ending to the campaign, Heath still feels as though people need to note how difficult it was to get out of the slump and qualify in comparison to previous years.

“I think this one’s been a lot more challenging. I really do, with the injuries we’ve had and the amount of people we’ve missed.”

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Name-dropping the likes of Hassani Dotson, Jacori Hayes, Romain Metanire, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Bakaye Dibassy, Robin Lod and Emanuel reynoso as players who have missed large sums of the campaign, Heath sees qualification as a major accomplishment while still acknowledging that it’s a target goal that they need to hit year-in and year-out. With injury issues facing the team nearly the entire campaign, rotation was necessary and second-string players were asked to come up big in multiple scenarios – including Sunday’s playoff-clinching victory.

“It’s been a challenge,” Heath said. “But everybody’s stepped up and I thought the subs actually, today, did really well when they went on the field. All of the subs did really well.”

Heath is now one of two active managers who have qualified for the MLS Playoffs for four-straight years, with the other being the Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin.

The Englishman has long stated his admiration for the club, the supporters and his players and with qualification clinched on Sunday, it’s likely comfortable to say he will retain his role as the head coach going into 2023. Heath signed an extension prior to the 2022 season that will keep him around until 2024.

The Loons ended Sunday as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, and as a result, will head to FC Dallas on the road in the opening round of the playoffs. The match will be at Toyota Stadium on Monday, October 17 and will kickoff at 9:30 pm ET with a stream on FOX Sports 1. Heath believes that his team has what it takes to travel to Dallas and “upset” the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

“I do. I just said the on the TV that we’ve been to [LAFC] and won, we’ve been to the Galaxy and won, we’ve been to Dallas [FC], we’ve been to Nashville. This group can win games anywhere, and we’ve proven that in the past. Now, is it gonna be easy in Dallas? No, it’s not. But do I think we can go down there and win? For sure I do, and anything’s possible!”

The Loons and FC Dallas have squared off twice this campaign already, with the Loons winning on the road 2-1 and FCD claiming three points in a 3-0 victory at Allianz Field.

It’s going to be a contentious contest for two teams who have a lot to prove, with both sides looking to meet and surpass expectations. For the hosts, it’s a big moment for their contingent of U.S. Men’s National Team stars in Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola, both of whom will look to keep their seasons going before they look to participate in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. On the other hand, MNUFC goalkeeper and Canadian Men’s National Team shotstopper Dayne St. Clair will look to do the same.

SotaSoccer.com will keep you up to speed on all Loons playoff coverage throughout the week, heading into Monday night’s match.

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