There’s a lot on the line for Minnesota United on Sunday.
If the Loons beat the Sounders in Seattle, they secure MLS Cup playoff first-round and semifinal matches at Allianz Field in mid-October.
The Loons’ playoff fate could tip in the balance. United is 10-1-6 at the club’s new St. Paul stadium, compared with 5-9-2 on the road. The Loons are unbeaten in 10 MLS games at Allianz since early June.
“If we can get a home-field game, and I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I don’t fear playing anybody here,” coach Adrian Heath said after a 3-1 home victory over Salt Lake on Sept. 15.
If the second-place Loons (15-10-8, 53 points) tie the third-place Sounders (15-10-8, 53) on Sunday, they would need the fourth-place Los Angeles Galaxy (16-14-3, 51) to tie or lose to the 11th-place Houston Dynamo (11-18-4, 37) in order to net two home playoff games.
Minnesota-hosted playoff games would likely be Oct. 20 (first round) and Oct. 24 (semifinal). With the St. Thomas-St. John’s college football game at Allianz Field on Oct. 19, this would mean three games on the stadium’s brand-new grass field within six days.
If the Loons lose Sunday, they can back into the second seed with a series of possibilities between the two other pertinent games that day: Galaxy vs. Dynamo and Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps. Without getting deep into the weeds, United supporters will be looking for Galaxy and/or RSL to lose or draw.
If the Loons lose to Seattle and other results go against them, they could fall to fifth place and would go on the road for the first playoff game. For this to happen, RSL would need to win and pass United on the first tiebreaker of total wins.
With all the games being played at the same time Sunday, Heath said he will be kept abreast of the other results while he’s at the field.
“It’s obviously a case of, you can’t just go in isolation of, ‘No, we are just going to play the game,’ ” Heath said. “Actually, a draw might be enough for us on the day.”
TOYE OR RODRIGUEZ?
United has just three goals from attackers in the past five games, but Heath feels like the Loons are getting into dangerous areas in front of the net.
“Can we do what we are trying to work on?” Heath asked, “Which is making sure the ball gets in the right areas.”
Forward Mason Toye didn’t have a shot on target in the first half of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Los Angeles FC. Angelo Rodriguez subbed on and had five shots, four on target, but couldn’t convert.
The starting striker figures to be Heath’s primary question for his lineup in Seattle.
“We have to make sure now we make the right decision at the weekend,” Heath said. “I don’t know what that is going to be yet.”
United starting center back Ike Opara has been dealing with soreness, but that isn’t expected to keep the contender for MLS defender of the year out of Sunday’s game, Heath said.
Opara has been working out on the side; he watched the Loons train Thursday. “Just making sure I’m hitting my wave at the right time,” he said.
With the Loons’ first playoff game either Oct. 19 or 20, here are the players’ national team duties: Jan Gregus will join Slovakia for a European Championship qualifier vs. Wales on Oct. 10 and a friendly vs. Paraguay on Oct. 13. Kevin Molino will join Trinidad and Tobago in a Concacaf Nations League match vs. Honduras on Oct. 10 and friendly vs. Venezuela on Oct. 14. Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller will be with Finland for Euro qualifiers against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Oct. 12 and Armenia on Oct. 15. Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye will be with the U.S. Under-23 team, while Romain Metanire’s status with Madagascar is to be determined, a United spokesman said.