When Bakaye Dibassy headed home Minnesota United's second goal at Lumen Field against the Seattle Sounders in the 67th minute to double the Loons' lead, the club were less than a half-hour away from booking their place in MLS Cup.
What followed was 30 minutes of pure heartbreak for the Loons and Minnesota sports fans. Seattle miraculously overturned a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 win, all without the aid of extra time. A fantastic season for Adrian Heath's side came to an end in the most painful of ways with three goals conceded in 18 minutes.
And just like that, the offseason officially started for Minnesota. Not much time to bemoan what could have been as they shift focus completely towards 2021.
“We've got a lot of big decisions to make in the next 24 to 36 hours on where we go and what we do to move forward, but that's what we'll do,” Heath said after the club's Western Conference Final loss to Seattle on Monday. “That's the nature of the game and sometimes you've got big decisions to make and they're not incredibly popular at times, but you have to believe that they're the right decisions. I think we've done that over the last couple of years, made some really good decisions with the players and the quality that we've brought in. Now, we have to go and do it again, try to keep moving forward. And that's what we'll do.”
Here are three big decisions Minnesota have facing them this winter.
Luis Amarilla and center forward
A season that got off to an encouraging start before being undone by the pandemic and multiple injuries, Luis Amarilla never quite got going in Minnesota. He had two goals and an assist in his first two games (waaaay back in March) then tried to fight through multiple injuries at the MLS is Back Tournament then in the club's return to play before finally having season-ending ankle surgery in November.
Amarilla, now 25, joined Minnesota on loan from Velez Sarsfield with a purchase option at the start of the season. Purchase options are often negotiable placeholders in normal times anyway, but whatever number was agreed upon was a pre-pandemic time, making negotiations potentially more tricky.
Minnesota were successful in their Decision Day presented by AT&T romp of FC Dallas and playoff run playing with winger Robin Lod as a de facto false nine, rather than natural center forward Kei Kamara. Lod as a false nine likely isn't a long-term fix, and Kamara might be back in 2021, but they'll be in need of another forward regardless.
Will it be Amarilla?
Ozzie Alonso and central midfield
What will the Loons do with Ozzie Alonso? The legendary midfielder has a club option in his contract for 2021.
The decision has not been announced yet though it has already been made, as Minnesota had to notify the league office of contract decisions within a few days of their season ending. Time will tell.
Alonso, who just turned 35, was restricted to nine starts in 2020 due to injuries. He has made 37 appearances in two seasons with Minnesota after a decade with the Sounders.
The Athletic reported that Minnesota are likely to sign free agent central midfielder Wil Trapp. A source confirmed the club's interest in the midfielder. If that deal gets done, will there be enough room in the midfield (and under the salary cap) for Alonso? Jan Gregus is a constant in the team, Trapp is an accomplished MLSer while Hassani Dotson and Jacori Hayes have earned opportunities, to name a few.
Thomas Chacon and DPs
Burying the sexiest headline to the third section, but ... it's possible Minnesota United could bring in two new DPs this winter.
“We’ll have a lot of flexibility," Watson said at the beginning of September. "You add youth player slots for next year and Jan can be brought down. We’re going through the mid-season evaluations and what next year can look like. Those discussions are ongoing.”
Chacon has played just 257 minutes over a season and a half with Minnesota. The club were looking to sort a loan move over the summer to find him more playing time, but that never materialized. His future is one to watch this winter.
Gregus has been an underrated cog in Minnesota's rise since his arrival from FC Copenhagen in 2019, a constant in the midfield and deadly set-piece taker (until Reynoso took over duties late).
Playoff runs are fleeting, it's not always easy to capture that moment and project it to future seasons and future success. Atlanta and Real Salt Lake each advanced in the 2019 playoffs and fell well short of expectations in 2020, for example.
Minnesota are hoping their linear growth year-over-year, hitting a new apex during these playoffs, won't stop trending upwards. They enjoyed success this year despite only getting two games from 2019 Defender of the Year Ike Opara, it's worth reminding.
The Loons have flexibility for more growth. It's a pivotal offseason in Minnesota.