Image courtesy of Minnesota United
As the calendar turns to September, the Major League Soccer season draws closer to its playoff selection. Minnesota United, now clear of their easiest remaining fixture by table position with a comfortable 3-0 win at Allianz Field on Wednesday over Colorado, have nine games remaining to solidify a playoff position, or to collapse their way out. The journey begins with one of three remaining trips to California this weekend to play the San Jose Earthquakes.
There are a few different ways to break down the remaining games, and California is where we begin. The Loons have games remaining in San Jose and twice in Los Angeles, one each against LAFC and the LA Galaxy. Past those, they have one more road trip, the season finale in the house of horrors that is Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. Suffice to say, most fans of this team would prefer not to be leaning on a need for a result in that game, based on most of this club’s history.
That leaves five games at Allianz Field, which is in theory an advantage for Minnesota, but has not proved to be one yet this season. The win over Colorado on Wednesday was just their third win at Allianz this season, with seven draws the most common result. Minnesota’s three home wins on the season are the second-fewest in the entire league, with the league-worst Rapids the only team worse.
The opponents in those home games are not exactly weak opposition, either. Both New England and St. Louis City are top-two teams in their conferences, and City will likely be eager for revenge after Minnesota delivered the expansion team’s first home defeat in May. The Loons also have matching home fixtures against three remaining road opponents in San Jose, Kansas City and the LA Galaxy, Western Conference foes that are all within seven points of Minnesota at time of writing.
To frame it a different way: the games against St. Louis, New England and LAFC, top teams in the league, are important and would be valuable to acquire points from. The six other games, two each against Kansas City, San Jose and the Galaxy, are essential for Minnesota’s upward trajectory. Should the Loons find success against either the Galaxy or Sporting KC, they could establish decisive leads over both playoff-seeking teams.
San Jose, the first opponent of the nine, enters Saturday’s game tied with 35 points and nine wins (MLS’s first tiebreaker) with Minnesota, currently losing the tie on goal difference (-4 to Minnesota’s +1). Should the Loons find a way to win on Saturday, they would establish a three-point lead over the Earthquakes, and depending on other results, could jump all the way up to fifth in the West. Minnesota, lest we forget, has been excellent on the road to keep themselves in the hunt: their six road wins are tied for most in the entire league with Orlando and Real Salt Lake.
If they are consigned to defeat, the picture grows murkier. San Jose would obviously pass them in both wins and points, and both Dallas (33 points) and Austin (32 points) would do the same with wins in their games. This would drop Minnesota right down to tenth in just one set of matches.
With the Western Conference as competitive as ever, Minnesota United retains control of their playoff fate as it stands, and can maintain that control through their six September matches. That said, the math is relatively simple, as playoff hunts so often are: the Loons need wins, and need as many of them as they can get.