La Velle E. Neal III
See more of the story

As the final whistle sounded Sunday, it was hard to tell which team had won a spot in the MLS playoffs and which one was banished to the offseason.

Players for both teams fell to the turf at Allianz Field. Some were bent at the waist. Others stood with their hands on their heads. Everyone was gassed.

There was no mosh pit at midfield. No exuberating.

Who was relieved? Who felt aggrieved? If you hadn't watched a second of Minnesota United's match against Vancouver, you would have been confused at the scene.

Then Loons fans began singing "Wonderwall."

Thanks to a first-half goal by Franco Fragapane and a second-half goal by Jonathan Gonzalez, the Loons clinched a berth in an MLS postseason they almost let slip through their clutches. They were 0-5-1 in their previous six games before Sunday, needing a victory or draw to move on.

"I think for all of us," said captain Wil Trapp, "the relief of qualifying for the playoffs in front of our home fans was huge. But the difference tonight was, we were more intense, we were more disciplined, and we had the energy and that's what wins games."

A loss would have been crushing to a team not used to underperforming. Now Loons manager Adrian Heath is one of two active MLS coaches to take their teams to four consecutive postseasons.

What was fascinating about Sunday was how the Loons handled their playoff survival.

After covering Twins baseball for 25 seasons, I've watched many Twins teams explode as the final out of their clinching game was made. They would pile up on the infield grass and every player had to hug every teammate before leaving for the clubhouse. Eventually, Torii Hunter would lead the charge inside, slip on ski goggles to keep the bubbly out of his eyes, grab bottles and start spraying down a room that had been covered with plastic from floor to ceiling for protection.

Those were the days I dressed as grungy as possible, because the clothes were likely headed for the trash after being obliterated by the liquids flowing around the room. I would bring a newspaper into the clubhouse just to wrap my digital recorder around so it wouldn't get clogged with beer and champagne.

Last season, the Timberwolves won a play-in game to qualify for the playoffs, and it looked like the roof was going to be blown off of Target Center from the celebrating. Patrick Beverley climbed the scorer's table, tossed his jersey into the crowd and then ran around the gym. It was just the second time the Wolves had qualified for the playoffs since 2004 — but last season was Beverley's only one with the Wolves. Yet he acted like many a long-suffering Wolves fan.

So I've been conditioned to witness frat parties breaking out when teams clinch a postseason berth. I thought about this as I headed for the elevator to the Loons locker room wearing a brand new pullover and recently purchased shoes. As I entered the elevator, a woman pushing a cart with two large baskets of champagne joined me. She explained they were backups.


I nervously entered the locker room. Nothing was covered with plastic. Players were being interviewed or dressing and heading home. Several bottles of bubbly were on the floor in the middle of the locker room, but only a couple had been opened. The Loons talked about how they were going to celebrate their win later. Heath talked about sipping wine with friends, later. Trapp said a friend recently gave him a 16-year-old bottle of Scotch he was going to crack open, later. I looked down at unopened bottles of champagne — not sparkling water, confirmed as champagne — on the floor. Nothing sprayed on the furniture or walls.

I was gobsmacked. Either soccer is different, or the Loons were embarrassed it took this long to qualify for the postseason.