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For Minnesota United, playing for a Concacaf Champions League berth is a big deal

For Minnesota United, playing for a place in the in the Concacaf Champions League is not just an added benefit of their run to the MLS is Back Tournament semifinals.

A year after missing out on a CCL berth by losing to Atlanta United in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final, it's a central part of the appeal.

"We had that opportunity last year with the Open Cup ... , and unfortunately it didn't go our way," Minnesota defender Chase Gasper said during a conference call on Monday. "So to have that second chance to potentially redeem ourselves and get that Concacaf Champions League spot would be massive for the club."

Throughout the tournament, the Loons have embraced the "underdog" tag while upending a pair of tournament darlings in the San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew SC on their way to the semifinals.

But as they prepare to face another fan favorite in "hosts" Orlando City on Thursday night (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes; TSN, TVA Sports 2), it's becoming clearer the Loons don't always want to be in that role. In his own portion of the conference call Monday, manager Adrian Heath talked about being only a couple moves away from contending on even footing with any team in the league.

As for Gasper, reaching a first continental competition would also reflect club growth.

"Because the club still is fairly new, it would help catapult it to that next level of club that everyone in North America knows and fears, and doesn’t want to play against," Gasper said. "To be a part of that club’s history, of the first team to make it to the Champions League, that would be massive to all of the players, for all the coaches.

"But we’ve got to take it one game at a time. So right now we’re just focused on Orlando."

Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla is one of the few Loons who has played in continental competitions before, with five appearances in the Copa Sudamericana. He said it's clear his teammates what to know what it's all about.

"This was something that has been talked about amongst the team since the start of the tournament, what the possibility would look like for the team and what an honor it would be," he said, through an interpreter. "For me personally, it would also be a great honor as well and a great opportunity to play against some other teams (internationally) and (get) some big recognition for the team."

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