As the 2021 MLS season got underway, it didn't seem like Decision Day was going to mean much for Minnesota United FC.
Since 1999, just two teams reached the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs after losing their first four games – New York City FC and Inter Miami CF – and that came in 2020 with an expanded playoff field during a COVID-19 pandemic-impacted season.
But here the Loons are, back in the playoffs for a third straight year, following a wild 3-3 draw against the LA Galaxy. That earned them the Western Conference's No. 5 seed and a Round One trip to face the No. 4 seed Portland Timbers.
“Well it puts us behind the eight ball a little bit, doesn’t it? We didn’t give ourselves much room for error,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said of their slow start. “I think, if I’m right, only two teams that have ever done it from that type of start, so it speaks volumes for the players and the staff – how hard everyone’s worked.”
With their backs firmly against the wall, Minnesota defeated Vancouver Whitecaps FC for their first win of the season on May 12. That started a stretch of seven matches without a defeat.
The Loons' final two months of the regular season were a bit topsy-turvy but ended with just one defeat in their final six matches to book their postseason berth.
“It’s a huge thing,” forward Robin Lod said. "It’s been a rollercoaster of a season. We started really bad then we had really good games in the middle of the summer and then these last few games we have been struggling a little bit, but we have been getting the points that we needed for the playoffs and now we can just reset ourselves and focus on the playoffs.”
“If you look at our record since the front four have been playing regular, it’s pretty impressive … so, we have to keep our best players on the field like everybody,” Heath said. "Playoffs now, all the big, all the best players have got to bring their A-game … and if you do, that’ll make the difference for whichever team we play or whichever team plays us.”
The team they'll encounter during Round One is Portland at Providence Park. Among those seven matches without a defeat early in the season was a 1-0 win in Portland. In July, the Loons also beat the Timbers, 2-1, at Allianz Field.
“I feel like the matchup is just playing well for us. There is nothing to get scared about them,” Lod said. "I have really good confidence about our team and what we are capable of doing. If we are playing close to the best we can, I feel like we have a good chance against any of the teams.”