Minnesota United’s toughest three-game stretch of the season is now two-thirds lost.
The Loons’ uphill climb against three teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings has started with two defeats — a 4-0 drubbing to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss at Seattle Sounders last weekend.
Loons manager Adrian Heath pegged four or five points out of nine available for this stretch to be considered a success. Now they can only salvage three points against the L.A. Galaxy at home on Saturday.
Minnesota had three scoring changes within the opening five minutes at Children’s Mercy Park, but couldn’t convert and Sporting made them pay. K.C.’s 3-0 halftime lead was the polar opposite of Minnesota’s 3-0 win over Sporting in the 2020 Western Conference semifinal.
Heath agreed with a reporters question that this is a low point of the season, and Heath went back to a low point in the club’s MLS history: the 2017 expansion season.
“Just said to the players, we came here about four years ago, I think, we got beat (3-0),” Heath said. “I think the disappointment is more now because I didn’t think that team four years ago was capable of winning here. This team, as it proved last year, is. I know we were without some big players for us (Wednesday), but that’s not acceptable. That is not good enough.”
In 2017, the Loons played the likes of Justin Davis, Collen Warner, Ish Jome and Bashkim Kadrii in that game. On Wednesday, the Loons were without MLS All-Star Emanuel Reynoso, who wasn’t quite ready to come back from his hamstring injury, and leading scorer Robin Lod being a late second-half sub.
Compared to the West semi, they were also without Ozzie Alonso and Chase Gasper (card-accumulation suspensions) and Kevin Molino, who the club didn’t re-sign in the offseason.
Minnesota continued to shooting blanks Wednesday, with no shots on target for the game. New striker Adrien Hunou had five total shots and an expected goals of 0.32, but nothing to show for it. He ended a long scoring drought Aug. 28 with a pair of goals, but it didn’t lead to more in the last two games.
The club declined to name a man of the match, and Heath said there were few positive performances outside of Joseph Rosales making his MLS debut and Lod returning after a five-game absence due to a calf injury. United needs Lod to ramp up his fitness and rekindle his scoring form on a team that was shutout for a fourth time in the last six games and only 24 goals in 23 games overall.
Khiry Shelton opened up the scoring in the 14th minute, capitalizing on a rebound of Daniel Salloi’s long-range shot which was punched away by Tyler Miller. Sporting continued to probe the left side of the Loons defense, where first-year MLS player D.J. Taylor was filling in for Gasper. In the 36th minute, Johnny Russell worked down the left side and crossed it to Salloi for the second goal.
On the third goal, Miller came off his line to the left edge of the box and hit Shelton in the leg. K.C. was rewarded with a KC and Russell buried it before halftime.
“It was a comedy of errors at times at the back,” Heath said. “Decision-making was poor with and without the ball. The one thing we said before the game, you come here, you have to take them opportunities that come your way and we did have opportunities, but we didn’t take them.”
The fourth goal, also created down the left side by Russell feeding Cam Duke in the 52nd minute, equaled the Loons’ worst defeat of the season, the 4-0 beating to Seattle on opening day. That first game ran away late from Minnesota; Wednesday’s game was out of reach quite early.
Heath subbed out Taylor in the 58th minute in a trio of changes when the game was completely out of reach.
“Sometimes when you have that type of first half performance, they deserve to dig themselves out of it,” Heath said. “It became quite apparent that we needed to make one or two changes.”
With Wednesday’s win, Sporting (13-5-7) went ahead of Seattle to the top of the Western Conference standings, while the Loons (8-8-7) fell to the fringe of the playoff picture.
K.C. took care of business at home, while Minnesota failed to do so against Sporting side in a scoreless draw in St. Paul on Aug. 21. Minnesota couldn’t score while being a man up for nearly 70 minutes at home.
Combined, it’s a double whammy.
No Loons players spoke to the media after the game as the team looked to leave Kansas as soon as possible.