In baseball, they call the chase for the pennant the "stretch drive." Unfortunately for Minnesota United, they've thrown their own playoff chase straight into reverse, and started going backward.
The Loons drew 1-1 with San Jose on Saturday night, yet again getting one or zero points at home when they needed three. The Loons have taken just 18 of a possible 48 points at home this year, earning just three wins and nine draws — eight of which have been 1-1.
An 82nd-minute goal from San Jose's Paul Marie canceled out a second-half goal from Minnesota's Teemu Pukki, another blown home lead for Minnesota, and the Loons yet again couldn't find a way to score a second goal.
"We haven't had enough wins at home this year," said manager Adrian Heath. "When you're on top, and you get your opportunities, you have to take them — and you can't afford to gift people opportunities when it's 1-0."
In the 56th minute, Pukki put the Loons in front. Captain Wil Trapp played in Bongokuhle Hlongwane on the counterattack, and when the ball was deflected off Hlongwane's feet at the left side of the goal, it rolled to Pukki, who'd never stopped running on the right. From there, it was a simple tap-in for the Loons striker.
In the 73rd minute, Pukki had another golden chance as a deflected shot fell to him all alone in the San Jose penalty area, but Earthquakes keeper Daniel somehow got down low to save Pukki's attempt, which came from only four or five yards away.
It was all part and parcel of Minnesota's struggles to finish its chances at home this year. Pukki had another golden chance in the first half as well, as a pass from Hlongwane put him behind the San Jose line, but the Finn's first touch was wayward and the ball rolled harmlessly to the keeper. Hlongwane also had a one-on-one chance early in the second half, but his low shot flew wide of the post.
And once again, the Loons' failure to turn 1-0 into 2-0 was followed by a defensive breakdown that cost them the lead. With fewer than ten minutes to go, San Jose's Cristian Espinoza beat two players, and floated a cross to the back post that Marie easily headed home, tying the game.
"Every time we make a mistake, it ends up in the back of the net at the moment," said Heath. "It's difficult to swallow at times."
The draw left Minnesota still in eleventh place in the Western Conference standings, three points out of ninth place, which is final the playoff spot — now just with three games to go, two of which are on the road.
Given their home struggles, the Loons might welcome the road trips.
Trapp had his own idea of how to get the team turned around. "We have to just push forward with a desire to win," he said. "It's like buffalo — when there's a storm, they get together and run towards the storm, and we've got to be buffalo right now."
This is where the Loons are, at this point of the season. Even if they're going to stampede right into the middle of a storm, they'll do anything to get back to moving forward.