Many MLS observers may be surprised to look at the Western Conference table on Sunday and see Minnesota United second from the top despite two tough away matches to open the season.
Loons manager Adrian Heath isn't one of them.
After Minnesota's stunning 5-2 victory at the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Earthquakes Stadium, the coach revealed he believes this fourth edition of Minnesota United has the highest ceiling.
"It's the best I’ve had since I’ve been in Minnesota," Heath said postgame. "There’s a great collective spirit, they do what’s asked of them, and they hold each other accountable, which is always important. And it doesn’t surprise me, the start we’ve had. Maybe didn’t think we’d score eight goals in two away games, but you know, I knew that we’d be competitive and we will be all season.”
There were elements of Saturday's win — notably a brace from center back Ike Opara and Robin Lod's first career MLS goal — that Minnesota won't expect to lean on game in, game out. But there others, like a goal in each of forward Luis Amarilla's first two games and diverse offensive contributions from a midfield that includes Kevin Molino, Jan Gregus and Ethan Finlay, that are more replicable.
That's not to say the Loons are a fully formed side yet. But they've earned 38 points over the last 20 league games going back to last season, a pace that over 34 matches would've been good enough for second place in either conference in 2019. And despite shifting around some resources — most notably moving on from attackers Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez — the mentality appears to have carried over from last season's fourth-place finish and first club playoff appearance.
"Confidence can be a shaky thing at times, but I think we just have to keep riding the good waves that we’re on," Opara said. "We have a great group of guys in our locker room that believe and love each other and enjoy being around each other. I don’t expect anything to be different moving next week."
With Opara and Lod as good as any aerial threats in the league, Minnesota's set piece ability should give them a fighting chance in any match, while the strength of and Osvaldo Alonso and Gregus in holding midfield set the Loons up to bend but rarely break against the league's most formidable attackers.
The Loons can still grow in possession as they approach their home opener on March 15 against the New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET | FS1, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), after having less than 38 percent of it in both their wins.
"The results have been good and the tactics have done really well for these two games, but I think we’ve got to have the ball for sure a little bit more," Lod said.
And with four home matches in a row coming, taking that next step could help Minnesota remain near the top of the West table for some time.
"The one thing I said before, just to the guys there, it’s a start," Heath said. "It’s a long year, lots of travel, you know. But we gave ourselves a good platform, we’ve got four home games now. You know, but, it doesn’t count for anything if you don’t perform at home. If we can perform like we can at home, and take these kind of performances on the road, then we should be in good shape.”