Loons in a familiar — and tough — spot Saturday at Austin FC

·4 min read

Minnesota United has been here before, just not with so little time left in the season.

Faced with an 0-4 start and a May loss at Colorado that left coach Adrian Heath livid, the Loons turned their season next time out with a streak-snapping 1-0 victory over Vancouver.

In September, they followed losses 1-0 at Seattle and 4-0 at Sporting Kansas City with a 3-0 home victory over LA Galaxy that again proved they have a short memory. It was their first victory over the Galaxy in nine meetings since the Loons started MLS play in 2017.

Now they head to last-place Austin FC Saturday for another potential bounce-back game with six regular-season games remaining.

This time, the Loons are away from home after Sunday's 3-1 home loss to Colorado that Heath called "hugely" disappointing.

"I don't know what's going to happen between now and the end of the season," Heath said. "But I have faith we can beat anybody on any given day, this group of players. I know we can because we've proven it."

The Loons this season have endured injuries to star Emanuel Reynoso and others and the absence of needed starters such as Robin Lod, Romain Metanire and Michael Boxall to international duty. (The latter three all returned from overseas this week and Heath calls them available to play.)

A team that couldn't win to start the season then couldn't lose, going undefeated in 12 of 13 games from mid-May to mid-August.

They travel to Texas in the Western Conference's seventh and final playoff spot with an uneven 2-6-6 road record against an expansion Austin FC team that's 5-7-2 at home. Fourth place and a home playoff game is eight distant points away.

"This team has been through a lot of ups and downs the whole year," Loons goalkeeper Tyler Miller said. "The one thing we pride ourselves in is our ability to bounce back. We know Saturday is a huge opportunity."

The Loons' 1-0 home victory against Vancouver in May ended that season-starting losing streak. It did so with Miller in the 11 for the first time after Dayne St. Clair started those first four games.

"Everybody was just determined in that game, myself included," Miller said. "Our defensive mentality is what has helped us the most when we need to have these bounce-back opportunities. I think on Saturday that's what you're going to see."

The Loons responded to that season start by shutting out at home Vancouver and then FC Dallas three days later. The Loons ended a two-game September losing streak with another shutout, over the Galaxy.

"It's good we've had situations where our back was against the wall," veteran midfielder Wil Trapp said. "We really responded in those moments."

They're in a similar situation now after they allowed Colorado three unanswered goals in Sunday's second half, despite playing the final 35-plus minutes with a man advantage.

"I can't lie, I wish we didn't have to have a bounce-back game because it's on the back of a bad defeat," Heath said. "But you know, I've got a lot of faith and trust in these guys and I know they know how important these games are from here on in. We missed a huge opportunity last weekend to give ourselves a really nice cushion. That's football."

Heath calls his team's situation "like we're already in the playoffs" and compared each of the final six games to a cup final.

Miller disagreed.

"You can't treat it like that," Miller said. "Too often people amp up games and try to call them what they're not. This is not a playoff game. It's an important game, but if we don't win it's not the end of the world. There are five more games after this game.

"We want to get the three points because it will put us in a very good position, but there's no need to add extra pressure at this point."

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