Before Saturday's game, Minnesota United's players and coaches agreed: This week, with three games against teams ahead of the Loons in the MLS Western Conference standings, is the biggest week of the season.
They probably would have preferred to start it somewhere other than Seattle.
What's now called Lumen Field has been a house of horrors for Minnesota over the past five years, and it was again on Saturday, as United lost 1-0 against the conference-leading Seattle Sounders. It was Minnesota's sixth loss in six games in the Emerald City, where they have been outscored 14-4 all time.
Minnesota plays at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, then against the LA Galaxy at home on Saturday. Despite the loss, manager Adrian Heath was still hopeful for the remainder of the difficult week. "We've still got six points to play for," he said. "I probably would have settled for four before the week started, four or five points. We've still got an opportunity."
The Loons, still missing playmaker Emanuel Reynoso and leading scorer Robin Lod because of injuries, were shut out for the third time in five games.
The loss leaves the Loons (8-7-7) stuck in sixth place in the standings, just two points ahead of eighth-place Vancouver for the last of seven playoff spots. Minnesota has been struggling to stay clear of the battle royal for the last few playoff spots at the bottom of the West, but the loss dropped them behind Portland, and a full six points back of the fourth-place Galaxy.
Early on, it was Minnesota keeper Tyler Miller who saved the Loons from falling behind. Seattle split the Minnesota defense with a long ball, but Miller saved first from Nicolas Benezet, then against Will Bruin, who was wide open in the center of the United penalty area.
It was not the only time in the half that Sounders attackers found their way between defenders in the United back line, as Seattle adopted a long-ball approach. It was a strategy designed to warp the Minnesota defense and pull defenders out of position to track the runs of the Seattle forwards, while playmakers Joao Paulo and Nicolas Lodeiro delivered passes over the top.
The strategy proved fruitful midway through the first half, as the Sounders (13-4-6) went ahead in the 22nd minute. Lodeiro slipped a reverse pass to Benezet on the right side of the Minnesota penalty area, and the winger squared the ball back to midfielder Paulo at the top of the box. Paulo's low shot went through Loons midfielder Ozzie Alonso's legs and inside the far post.
"They were pretty successful in creating depth with runs in behind us," said Loons midfielder Wil Trapp."I felt like there were moments for us to create a little bit more, I don't think we were dangerous enough given the amount of possession we had."
Minnesota did have plenty of the ball, but struggled to turn that possession into chances. The best of the night came in the first half, through Ethan Finlay. The right winger cut inside a defender to the middle of the Seattle penalty area, but his left-footed shot was close enough to Stefan Frei for the keeper to smother the attempt, low to his right.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.