But hopes didn't come to fruition, as the Loons fell 3-1 to the Portland Timbers in Round One of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday, conceding three straight goals after jumping ahead with an early strike.
It marks the end of the road for a Minnesota group that never reached a gear that reflected the roster's talent, with four straight season-opening losses forcing them to dig out of an early hole. After Sunday's match, head coach Adrian Heath said he was pleased with how his team responded after that rough beginning but acknowledged their overall form was too erratic.
"I think one of the words I'd use is inconsistent," Heath said. "I don't think we've been as consistent as we can be with the group that we've got. Obviously we've had large chunks of the season where our front players weren't available, whether it be [Emanuel Reynoso], where it be [Robin Lod], whether it be Franco [Fragapane], and I don't think that's helped us.
"But we'll dust ourselves down, the players have some time off, they'll recharge the batteries and we'll come back again and we'll come back hopefully stronger. But this is certainly the best group we've had since I've been here so if we can add to it, which is going to be our objective in the offseason, to add one or two pieces with it, make us stronger in certain areas, then that's what we're going to do."
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC | November 21, 2021
Asked about Heath's assessment, midfielder Wil Trapp said he agreed that the offseason's goal needs to be figuring out how to maintain better form over a 34-game regular season and, ideally, into the playoffs.
"This game was a little bit of a microcosm of the season," Trapp said. "You have good moments, you have not-so-good moments and ultimately we didn't come out where we wanted to be. I think the course of the season showed that in our group. The reasons for it, at this moment, I don't have the exact answer. I think it's always something where you look at the start. If we start poorly, how do we claw ourselves back, and I think we did a good job of that.
"But it has to be something where from the first whistle of the season to the last whistle of the season, we have to have a little bit more of a consistent mindset and a consistent product we're putting on the field. I don't have the exact answer as to why inconsistency was in the mix so much this year, but it's definitely something we need to think about over the offseason and address come next year."
Minnesota have big questions to answer after early playoff exit
What the roster will look like come 2022 is also to be determined, but Heath's comments indicate that he feels Minnesota's core is largely in place rather than needing wholesale changes.
Should that hold true, Trapp expressed confidence that MNUFC aren't far off from becoming a true contender in the Western Conference, even if it didn't manifest in 2021.
"For me it's just focusing on getting healthy, getting ready for next year," Trapp said. "I think if anything this is a situation where you're going to be motivated, and I know I am. All that stuff you talk about in a day or so, so I'm not thinking too much about it right now. It's a place I want to be. I believe in this group and I believe in this club. It's something that we need to move forward with."