Minnesota United’s 1-0 victory in stoppage time Saturday at FC Cincinnati interrupted a season’s stretch rife with injuries, absence, two positive and one false positive COVID-19 tests, two ensuing postponed games, lost training days and four draws in six previous games.
It could be worse.
Upcoming Wednesday opponent Colorado on Saturday played its first game in more than a month, losing 4-0 at Sporting Kansas City in a game already postponed once. The Rapids had seven games postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak in the team. Overall, at least 17 staff members and players tested confirmed positive.
As it is, Loons players and staff consider their season suspended and restarted again unlike any other.
“Nothing remotely close to this,” veteran defender Michael Boxall said.
Saturday’s scorer in stoppage time, second-half substitute striker Aaron Schoenfeld called 2020 a “year for the history books.” It was a season suspended in March for four months, restarted with the six-week MLS is Back Tournament played in a protective bubble in Orlando. Then it was restarted yet again with a resumed regular season in team’s own markets starting in mid-August.
“The hardest season ever for me personally, as much physically as it is mentally,” Schoenfeld said in a postgame FSN interview. “With the stops we had a couple weeks ago with the COVID outbreak, you just don’t know. It has been difficult for every player.”
Schoenfeld’s winning two-touch, pinball goal came at the end of a disputed corner kick that Boxall first deflected from the near post, off the far post with his head. Schoenfeld played opportunist from there inside the crowded 6-yard box.
The victory at game’s end came after Schoenfeld supplied the size and energy in another comeback this season, a 2-1 victory over Sporting KC that opened the Loons’ MLS is Back Tournament play with both their goals scored in stoppage time.
Saturday’s victory moved the Loons briefly into Western Conference’s fourth place — the last spot that gets first-round, home-field advantage — despite five points squandered with their 3-1-2 home record. They’re five points behind first-place SKC. LAFC reclaimed that fourth spot Sunday with a victory over the LA Galaxy.
“We’ve done all right of late,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said after Saturday’s game. “Even the point against Houston [a 2-2 home draw], we scored two really good goals. I didn’t make much song and dance about it, but I knew how difficult that game would be. We’ll be better for tonight. We look at the league table and if we can pick up three points in the week, now it’s looking very, very good.”
To do that, they’ll have to beat a Colorado team that lost more players and practice time than the Loons did when attacking midfielder star Emanuel Reynoso and defender Jose Aja tested positive, forcing a postponed game at FC Dallas.
An additional false positive from team testing postponed out of caution a home game against Chicago while team and staff underwent additional nasal-swab testing during two weeks when the Loons trained but twice. They’re back to testing every other day and on the day before games.
“It’s nice for our noses to get a rest,” Boxall said “We’re happy guys are back healthy and feeling good, training with us. It was good to have a week for preparation.”
Colorado hadn’t played a game since Sept. 23 before it allowed all four goals after halftime Saturday in Kansas City.
“There’s no hiding it, it’s a challenge not playing however many weeks it was,” Colorado defender Keegan Rosenberry said in a postgame video call with reporters. “It is difficult. I think it will be easy for us to forget about it and start thinking about Minnesota.”
Heath has started the same lineup in consecutive games only three times this season — and never since the Loons lost in the tournament semifinals in August.
“I can’t remember the last time I picked the team regularly,” Heath said. “It seems we’ve had to tweak or change something each week. Then we had the COVID and everything on top of that. It has probably been the most trying year I’ve had in football. Some people think we should be better off. Maybe we should. But with what’s gone on this year, we’ve given ourselves a really good opportunity and that speaks volumes for the players. They’ve overcome all the obstacles this year.”