Losing in the playoffs is never easy. Losing a penalty shootout, as Minnesota United FC did to FC Dallas on Monday night in Round One of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, is even tougher.
It was a valiant road performance from the Loons, who took a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute courtesy of a clinical opener from star playmaker Emanuel Reynoso. Far from home and in the driver's seat, they limited Dallas's attack for much of the match, creating some good chances of their own to potentially add a second goal. But Facundo Quignón's 64th-minute leveler wound up sending the match to the decisive shootout, where the hosts prevailed 5-4.
"Football's a cruel game at times. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve," rued Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath. "Once it comes down to penalties, there's going to be a winner and a loser. There's going to be a hero and there's gonna be somebody who thinks it's the worst night they've ever had. It's never easy, trust me."
Added captain Wil Trapp: "The way in which we played tonight, I thought we deserved more. It's unfortunate, but we gotta take the positives from it. Ultimately it's a step in the right direction, in the sense of some of the results we had this season and some of the form we found, and continuing to build the chemistry and quality we have on the field to build consistent winning patterns."
Another playoff heartbreak
Consistency was hard to come by in Minnesota this season. Injuries took a brutal impact on the Loons, with core players like Bakaye Dibassy, Romain Métanire, Hassani Dotson and Jacori Hayes all missing significant time.
"It's been a difficult year," admitted Heath. "It's been very inconsistent – inconsistent with the selection at times, because of the players' availability and the injuries that we've had."
Still, it feels like another season for Minnesota in which they couldn't find the edge to make the final push.
At one point, the Loons were one of the hottest teams in MLS, but struggled mightily down the stretch. After Dibassy's season-ending injury in late August, they lost five of their last seven matches, squandering the chance to play at Allianz Field in the postseason. In a league where the margins are already razor-thin, it's hard not to think playing at home might have made a difference.
It marks another abrupt end to the postseason for Minnesota, who made the Western Conference Final in 2020, but have now bowed out in Round One in each of their last two league campaigns.
"Our goal next season should be not only making the playoffs, but hosting a playoff game," said Trapp. "We know in front of our crowd, in front of our fans, we're a team that is different."
Now, after another disappointing playoff exit, Minnesota United are left with a long offseason, not to wonder what could have been, but to reshape and rebuild the roster for a stronger push in 2023.
"We'll have to assess it all over the next weeks. See what's been good, see what changes we think we need to make. And there will be. That's the way the game is," said Heath, already shifting away from the loss and looking forward to the clean slate of a new season. "People will stay, people will go, new people will come in. We've got some really big and tough decisions to make over a lot of players in the next few weeks."
"We'll try to make some alterations in the offseason to come back and make the playoffs and hopefully go further than we've done tonight."
HIGHLIGHTS: FC Dallas vs. Minnesota United FC | October 17, 2022