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For a minute there, Minnesota United appeared to have MLS figured out.

Last Saturday, the Loons were riding a streak of four wins and a draw, including a pair of impressive away wins. They were leading Colorado 3-1 at halftime, on their way to claiming another three points on the road.

And fans could have been forgiven from sneaking a peek at not only the Western Conference standings, but at the overall league standings — just how far behind Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati were the Loons, anyway?

Three halves of soccer later, including a come-from-ahead draw with the Rapids and Wednesday night's 2-0 loss to LAFC, and you can consider Minnesota's reality officially checked.

Since halftime on Saturday, the Loons have been outscored 4-0, outshot 24 to 11, and have put only three shots on goal. That included just two against LAFC, in a game that one data provider chalked up a paltry 0.24 expected goals for the Loons.

"We needed to be almost perfect to come here and get a result," coach Eric Ramsay said. "I do feel like we have it in us to be almost perfect, particularly defensively, but that wasn't the case tonight."

To be fair to the Loons, Colorado and Los Angeles is a tough road swing. LAFC's home record since joining the league in 2018 is the best in league history, even as playing on the road in MLS has generally gotten easier over the past few years. And the altitude in Colorado presents one of the odder tests for any American team, in a league that's full of difficult road trips.

Said Ramsay: "I don't want any bad feeling to creep in, as a consequence of one point taken from Colorado and LA, because I know the nature of the challenges there. That's a really big thing for us, that we remain level, that we remain as constructive and objective as we can, and we keep trying to move forward."

As the MLS standings begin to sort themselves out, the Loons are now looking up at the other teams that increasingly appear to be the class of the Western Conference: Real Salt Lake, the LA Galaxy, and LAFC. Minnesota could manage only draws in home games against RSL and the Galaxy, and while they beat LAFC at home in Ramsay's first game in charge, Wednesday night's loss showed that — at least on the road — they have some way to go to reach LAFC's level, too.

"It's a league for us in which it's going to be impossible to go unbeaten for really long periods of time, because that's just not the nature of the league, nor where we're at," said Ramsay.

Minnesota has 20 games to go in a 34-game season, so there's still plenty of time for the Loons to continue to improve. For a moment, though, Minnesota already appeared to be the finished article. Over the last two hours or so of soccer, they've discovered how far they have to go to start being talked about as a championship contender.

Can't stop the counter

Coming into Wednesday's game, LAFC led the league in shots from counterattacks.

It's safe to say that they extended that lead on Wednesday.

Especially in the second half, the Loons had no answer for the rampaging runs of Denis Bouanga and Mateusz Bogusz. The game became a blur of white-shirted Loons defenders continuously chasing after numbers 99 and 19 in black, sometimes preventing a shot but often depending on goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair to bail them out.

Bogusz's goal, a 30-yard screamer, was one of five or six chances that the home team might have put into the back of Minnesota's net.

"They're the best counterattacking team in this division, from what I've seen," said Ramsay. "It would have been really tough for us to survive the entire game without giving away a number of counterattacks, because particularly the two wide players are relentless in how they try to use the space in behind."

Of course, one of the best ways to limit counterattacks is to not give the ball away, and that's something Minnesota struggled with all evening. Ramsay used the terms "precision" and "imprecision" over and over in his postgame news conference, repeatedly implying it was the key thing the Loons were missing on Wednesday.

"We would have liked to reduce the number of counterattacks that we gave away through imprecision on the ball," said the manager. "But that wasn't the case, so that's a big thing for us to improve as we move forward."

Out-swingers too far out

The Loons have made a habit of scoring from corner kicks, and against LAFC, their plan seemed clear: try to get Miguel Tapias or Kervin Arriaga free, while Joseph Rosales used his left foot to curl the ball away from LAFC keeper Hugo Lloris.

In the first half, it worked to perfection, as Rosales planted a pass right on Tapias' forehead, and the defender turned the ball into the net. The only problem was that the assistant referee immediately ruled that Rosales had curled the ball too far, and the entire ball had gone over the end line before swinging back into the LAFC penalty area.

It wasn't the only time, either. Rosales was called for kicking the ball out of play on a corner kick three times in a row, a departure from what has usually been pinpoint deliveries from the wingback.

The whole scenario left Ramsay frustrated.

"I haven't seen the best angle to give me a conclusive take on that, but I felt like that's a big call and it must have been very marginal," he said. "In fact, I can't remember the last time that that's happened. You hope that it's the right call, and of course you'll be immensely frustrated if it isn't, because it's a big intervention that you don't often see."