BLAINE, Minn. – Ahead of the 2019 U.S Open Cup final against Atlanta United, the underdog label found Minnesota United. They largely weren’t expected to be there, and the players fed off that as a source of motivation.
Now, ahead of hosting the LA Galaxy on Sunday (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, TVAS, TSN4) in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the tables have turned some. The Loons, with the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed, are seen as a serious threat for a playoff run.
“I think the biggest advantage anyone could have would be playing at home,” head coach Adrian Heath said. “Any team playing at home this weekend would say that. We’re at home. I fully expect us to perform, and if we do, I think we can win.”
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“I think you embrace the challenge,” winger Ethan Finlay said. “The stars can’t singlehandedly take teams to win championships, you need the role players. You need the whole group, you need the team. That’s no different whether you’re LA or Minnesota.
“You know you need big role players to come up and play big minutes for you throughout the season, and specifically the postseason.”
While Minnesota likes their chances, they hold a 0-4-2 all-time record against the Galaxy. To turn around those fortunes, they’ll look to take advantage of an LA side that allowed four goals in back-to-back games to end the regular season.
The Loons are also starting to get their full squad back, as winger Robin Lod was away with Finland during the October international window. Meanwhile, striker Mason Toye and midfielder Hassani Dotson were with the U.S. U-23 national team. They won’t have their first training session until Friday, two days ahead of the date with the Galaxy.
“They don’t arrive until late [Wednesday], and we have tomorrow off, so it’s not ideal for them,” Heath said.
As the pieces come together, Minnesota will also lean upon its veteran core. Holding midfielder Ozzie Alonso and center back Ike Opara have played in these types of games before, while Jan Gregus, Darwin Quintero and Vito Mannone also bring plenty of experience.
That could be the differentiator on their home ground.
“It’s nice to think that we’re favorites and it’s nice to know people believe in us, but the core group of guys we have – the veterans who have been here before – that’s where we’re going to look to Sunday,” Finlay said. “We’ve got a lot of doubters on one side, but it also doesn’t hurt to have a few on the other side."