Oct. 11—For a third time this season, Minnesota United has swung and missed with a man advantage for a lengthy stretch of a game, and Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Colorado Rapids felt like a strikeout to the Loons’ chances to host a home playoff game come November.
Heck, while the Loons will keep a tenuous hold of the seventh and final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference despite the loss, the club doesn’t look to be at all deserving of being in the picture.
The Loons led 1-0 when Colorado’s Danny Wilson was shown a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to Adrien Hunou in the 58th minute. Minnesota’s 11 men would go against Colorado’s 10 for more than a half hour, but across the game they managed only three shots on target to Colorado’s 12.
Instead of adding to the lead, Loons goalkeeper Tyler Miller went for the ball but tripped Michael Barrios inside the six-yard box, and Cole Bassett buried the penalty kick to tie the score in the 74th minute.
United then gave up the winning goal to Barrios in the 84th minute, and Lucas Esteves tacked on a third goal in stoppage time after the Loons put everything forward to desperately find an equalizer.
Minnesota’s collapse was the first time in MLS history a team was a goal down, then went a man down, but rallied to score three goals to win the game, the league shared with the Pioneer Press.
The season’s first strike with a man advantage came against San Jose on Aug. 17. Wil Trapp equalized moments after the Earthquakes went down to 10 men in the 21st minute, but that was it as the road game ended 1-1. Four days later, strike two came when Sporting Kansas City went down to 10 men in the 21st minute in St. Paul, but that ended in a 0-0 draw.
Combined, it was more than 140 minutes played up a man but without a match-winner. Now, 30-plus minutes can be to added to the painstaking total.
After the third strike Sunday, Heath was asked why his team continues to struggle while playing up a man.
“We’ve changed the way we’ve played,” he responded. “We’ve stopped trying to play through the field, waiting for openings, side-to-side, getting overloads on opposite sides. We’ve gone long. We’ve gone straight. We’ve been playing straight balls. The only place where they haven’t lost anybody is in the back. It’s 4-4-1, so that part of the field is still exactly the same. You have to move the ball. You have to move it quickly. Side to side. Get people in little holes, get the little passing play, little combination play, not long straight balls. For a lot of central defenders, that is food and drink. I think that is what we’ve done (Sunday). We got desperate and played desperate, instead of playing our football.”
Heath’s answer was tactical in nature, yet he’s the one primarily responsible for the way players approach the game.
“I don’t want to say it’s panic, because I don’t think that is what it is,” midfielder Finlay added about the man advantage. “But I think we need to continue to do what we were doing for the first 55-60 minutes. I think at times we start to force it and we get too direct and we expose ourselves. …
“I don’t have a clear answer for you, but there are 11 smart players that should be able to figure it out there and we’re not right now.”
In the end Sunday, it’s a swing and a miss on Minnesota’s chance to close the eight-point gap on fourth-place Portland for the last spot to host a game in MLS Cup Playoffs.
United’s opening goal came from the player who needed it most: new Designated Player Adrien Hunou, who had been on a 213-minute scoreless drought in his past five appearances. The Frenchman scored in the eighth minute to give Minnesota a sterling start, but it ended in a sour, deja-vu finish, with some fans booing after Colorado’s third goal hit the back of the net.