Survivors of a schedule so far lopsided against it, Minnesota United returns to an empty Allianz Field on Sunday and a home-field advantage nonetheless against Real Salt Lake.
The Loons have played three home games and seven away in an MLS season reconfigured by a pandemic. Their 2-5-1 record since an August restart after the MLS is Back Tournament has dropped them from first place in the Western Conference back in March to seventh.
They haven’t won a road game since they beat Portland and San Jose consecutively at season’s start but now play six of their final 10 games at Allianz Field.
“It has been long overdue, we think,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “The stadium has been really kind to us since we opened it. We have taken a lot of points there. It has become a bit of a fortress for us. So the way the results have gone for us the last few weeks on the road, the importance becomes huge for us.”
Even when the regular season ends Nov. 8, they’ll have played nine home games and 11 away, two fewer than many other teams. That’s not counting the neutral-site tournament games.
“It’s not an ideal situation for everybody that we’re in,” Heath said. “We’ll get on with it, but it’s not ideal.”
The Loons played before a limited number of spectators in four of five road games since the restart, their first of two games at Houston the only exception.
They’ve played all three home games in August and September without fans after consulting with state and local health authorities. They are expected to continue that way through regular season’s end in early November.
Even without fans, Allianz Field still is a home-field advantage. They’ve won two of three games there.
The Loons will rise Sunday without heading to the airport for a 9:30 a.m. gameday flight. They also won’t return as late as 2 a.m.
After Sunday’s game, the Loons have all week to train in Blaine for Saturday’s home game against FC Cincinnati.
That allows the Loons their first real chance to train with newly acquired striker Kei Kamara and healing players such as Ozzie Alonso and Ethan Finlay.
The home field even without hometown fans is an advantage simply because it’s home.
“It’s just the familiarity of everything,” Heath said Friday. “The lack of travel, waking up in your own bed the morning of the game, etcetera. It’s all those little things.”
Heath attributes his team’s many injuries — from which it is starting to recover — on a remade schedule. MLS is asking teams to play every third or fourth day most weeks to create an 18-game regular season that allows for November playoffs and MLS Cup in December.
Minnesota United plays seven games in October alone, four of them at home.
“I can’t think of a busier month,” said Loons striker Aaron Schoenfeld, one of the many who have been injured. “You just have to take care of yourself, starting with nutrition, making sure we’re stretched, eating right, making sure we’re doing everything to recover as fast as possible.
“I’m sure you’ve seen so many injuries on each team. I think it’s just a battle of attrition right now.”
After next Saturday’s game against FC Cincinnati, the Loons play at Nashville three days later. They play three midweek games in October as well as every weekend.
“There’s no set way of doing it,” Heath said. “It’s too many games in a short period of time. Sometimes I feel for the players a little bit because it’s 36 hours after a game, you’re still recovering and you’re back on the plane to another game. It’s going to be the same for everybody.
“Hopefully, we get a few more bodies fit. … We need a clean bill of health. If we do, our depth of squad will show out toward the end of the month.”