Minnesota United's 3-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night was more than the end of a season.
It was the end of an era for a franchise that now goes forth with a new coach to replace fired Adrian Heath, as well as presumably a new general manager and the new players that inevitably come with such change.
"I would say it's more of a start of a new one," Loons interim coach Sean McAuley said. "The club has got to move on. That's just the nature of the beast."
The Loons now go abruptly into an offseason that for the first time since 2018 won't include MLS postseason play.
They say goodbye to a turbulent season that started with All-Star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso's absence until June. It ended with McAuley coaching after the club fired Heath and technical director Mark Watson with two games left in the regular season and a fifth consecutive playoff appearance at stake.
The Loons needed to win Saturday night and then needed some help. The help came when Portland lost to Houston. But it didn't matter, because Sporting Kansas City scored two goals within three minutes in the first half, then went up 3-0 in the 78th minute after Loons-beater Johnny Russell scored his second goal of the game.
Veteran defender Michael Boxall's header goal off a free kick in the 82nd minute wasn't nearly enough. The loss kept the Loons in 11th place, two spots away from ninth and the final playoff spot.
Dallas finished seventh. Sporting KC finished eighth — after starting the season with a 10-game winless streak — and will play host to ninth-place San Jose in a wild-card playoff game on Wednesday, a format new to this year.
Portland in 10th and the Loons in 11th both finished out of luck.
"We're disappointed, that's reality," Loons captain Wil Trapp said. "Disappointment just in the way the game went. Conceding the back-to-back goals was certainly a more difficult way to go about the game. But no one quit, which I'm super proud of the boys for that."
Ultimately, the Loons headed home after a season when they lost too many leads or ties late in games, particularly at Allianz Field. They won six road games, fifth-best in MLS behind only Orlando's nine, Real Salt Lake's eight and seven by Seattle and Cincinnati.
But they also went 4-4-9 at home. Only last-place Colorado won fewer home games in the Western Conference, with three.
That's a lot of points squandered.
"We've not done well enough at home," McAuley said. "In the MLS, you need to win more home games and we've not done that. That's on us. That's on the team, the staff, everybody involved. We've probably given up too many winning positions to dropping points. Next season we need to be a lot stronger in those areas. We need to be stronger at home. We need to be stronger when we're winning to see games out."
Next season begins with searches for a new coach and general manager, seven years after Heath became the first — and until this month, the only — coach the MLS franchise had ever had.
"Adrian and Mark were here for a long time, Adrian the entire time in MLS," Trapp said. "So that era has ended. Whatever comes next is the next iteration. It's a wonderful opportunity for the club to take the next step and see what they can do and what we can achieve."
Heath brought McAuley, a former Orlando City and Portland assistant coach, to Minnesota in 2020.
McAuley was asked Saturday where he fits in among all the changes that will be coming.
"That's not for me to decide," McAuley said. "I'd like to see myself in any position. That's the nature of this business. You don't know from one day to the next. A really, really successful manager that I know said to me, 'Plan for 10 years and don't be surprised if it ends in 10 minutes.' "
Trapp praised the club for giving McAuley the opportunity, and McAuley for seizing it.
"Right now, I don't know, to be honest," Trapp said when asked what his team needs in the next coach. "What I can say is what these guys mean to Sean. I thought he did an amazing job coming into a difficult situation. To get guys doing what they're best at, that was a really impressive thing to see for a manager coming into an interim role.
"I can't speak about what's next, but I commend the club and Sean in particular for taking this opportunity very seriously."