Pukki party! "Still a chance" for Minnesota United after Heath exit


Minnesota United FC, fresh off parting ways with longtime head coach Adrian Heath, were on the ropes in Matchday 37. A defeat, combined with other results not going their way, would end their Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs push.

Teemu Pukki was having none of that.

The veteran striker produced a stunning performance Saturday evening at Allianz Field, tallying four goals to power a 5-2 victory that ended the LA Galaxy's own postseason dreams. Pukki, the all-time leading scorer for Finland and a Norwich City legend, was a clear man-of-the-match pick.

“Probably my youth. I don’t think in a professional career have I scored four, not that I can remember,” Pukki said of the historic occasion.

The result snapped Minnesota's seven-game winless streak (0W-4L-3D) and leaves them one point (11th place) below the playoff line before Decision Day on Oct. 21, when they'll visit Sporting Kansas City in a win-or-go-home season finale (9 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). They'll need some other results to fall in their favor, too. 

The Loons, who will have a handful of players competing in the October international window, have made the postseason every year since 2019.

"There’s still a chance," said Pukki, their midseason addition who has 10g/1a in 13 games. "For now, my focus will be with the [Finland] national team starting tomorrow [for qualifiers]. But, after that, there’s one last final. The only thing we can do is win that game and see where we come from there.”

Though MNUFC's season is temporarily saved, it doesn't make this up-and-down week any easier after Heath's exit was formalized Friday morning.

“It’s been crazy," said defender Michael Boxall. "When we found out about Adrian – it’s part of the game, but that sucks. He’s all I’ve known at this club with him, and I’m super grateful for everything he has done for me. This is the team he built. This [tonight’s result] is what we are capable of and he knew that and we just weren’t able to produce that on enough occasions this year."

Minnesota's win over LA was just their fourth home victory of the season (4W-4L-9D), a huge reason why playoff soccer isn't guaranteed. But for now, the new-coach bounce has powered a big checklist item.

“The work that Adrian has done for the seven seasons he’s been here has been phenomenal," said interim coach Sean McAuley. "It’s something that happens sometimes in sports, but we must pay respect to the past and we must reflect on it, and use that as a fuel to try and move forward."