Finally, Minnesota United’s exhausting seven-games-in-22-days stretch will come to an end on Saturday. But the Loons first have to get through that seventh game, a road match against Real Salt Lake.
The Loons have won all four of their MLS games, picking up points for their playoff push despite tired legs, and one U.S. Open Cup match in that stretch but are coming off a Wednesday loss in an international friendly.
“We won all those games, so keep the games coming, I guess, if that’s how we’re going to go amongst our stretch” defender Michael Boxall said with a laugh.
Coach Adrian Heath’s team on Saturday faces another Western Conference team vying for the playoffs. Minnesota is in fourth place with 33 points, and Real Salt Lake is at 29 points and tied for sixth. It has won three of its past four league matches.
“Both teams know what’s on the line with points and how tight the West is,” Boxall said. “But I think with the way we’ve been playing and the way we’ll get results, we’re still looking to climb the table against Western Conference teams.”
As was true with their last MLS opponent, FC Dallas, the Loons face a foe coming off a full week’s rest. It’s a far cry from what Minnesota has dealt with for the past few weeks.
Training changes during such a busy stretch. Instead of focusing on strategy, a bulk of the focus is instead on keeping the players healthy and fit while not mentally draining them.
This week was different, though, with Wednesday’s match having been an international friendly against Aston Villa. Plenty of depth players started, while most of the usual starters only got their training in.
“The irony of it is, when you play in these games, you can’t really do much,” Heath said. “I can’t remember having a tactical day on the field. It’s been regeneration. Next day, it’s looking forward and the day before a game.”
While the Loons are eyeing a week when they can rest their bodies and minds, they aren’t looking past the significance of each match. The team has grinded out some key wins, including the 1-0 victory against FC Dallas that involved plenty of heroics, down to goalkeeper Vito Mannone’s save on a penalty shot in stoppage time.
“In that Dallas game there were some tired legs,” Boxall said. “Honestly, full effort from everyone involved to keep digging through the 90-plus minutes with Vito’s big penalty save. It kind of sums up our team a bit. When we got our backs against the wall, we still put in good performances and can grind out wins.”
The Loons likely will start All-Star defender Romain Metanire, back from international duty. Heath said he hasn’t decided who will be taken out for him.
Recently acquired Robin Lod will be unavailable; he has a slew of paperwork before he’s ready for selection.
Real Salt Lake is coming off a 4-0 victory against the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. Jefferson Savarino scored twice.
The Loons will have to be wary of Savarino, whose five goals are the third most on the team, and a Real Salt Lake attack that can strike quickly.
“We have played well there, but we’re going to have to this weekend,” Heath said.
“This is the best Salt Lake team we will have come up against.”