Mere moments from reaching the MLS Cup game five months ago, Minnesota United is winless to start a season coach Adrian Heath promises is still too early for worry.
The Loons have been outscored 6-1 in losses to Seattle and Real Salt Lake. Heath says his team has been good against both everywhere but on either end of the field.
"Unfortunately for us, both ends of the field — which are the important parts — we have not been as good as we liked," Heath said.
In last place in the 13-team Western Conference, they are the only one without a point in the season's first two weekends.
When asked to assess his team's season start, veteran defender Michael Boxall asked in return, "How we're playing or how we're sitting?"
Last season, the Loons scored 15 goals in their final six games — seven in the regular season's final three games and eight more in three playoff games.
This season, their only goal was Robin Lod's left-footed, one-touch strike last Saturday in the 86th minute against Real Salt Lake that was too little, too late.
Opposing defenses have smothered star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso while the Loons wait for recently signed forwards Ramon Abila and Adrien Hunou to get fit and healthy or clear immigration paperwork.
Defensively, they've committed mistakes leading to two tap-in goals in a 4-0 loss at Seattle in the season opener and allowing Real Salt Lake to take a 2-0 lead in the first half at Allianz Field.
"I don't think it's a collective," Heath said. "Individual errors cost us dearly and the people involved in the errors know that. But that's part and parcel of football. … It seems very simple, but I believe it really is that simple. If we can get back to where we were last year and not make individual errors that are costing us, we've been very good at times."
Real Salt Lake's newly signed midfielder Anderson Julio scored Saturday in the 31st and 41st minute on counterattacks. Before the first goal, Loons defender Romain Metanire blasted a shot toward goal from a distance. Heath suggested he probably should have played it out wide to a teammate.
The shot bounded back off a wall of defenders, triggering a 5-on-3 Real Salt Lake advantage the other way. Loons defender Chase Gasper misplayed a bouncing ball at the 18-yard line that Julio swept into the net.
"Boot it out of there," said Gasper, referring to what he should have done. "Just caught in between two minds. Yeah, definitely boot it out."
On the second goal, Gasper tried from near midfield to play the ball all the way back to goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. But it never got there, and Real Salt Lake's Rubio Rubin combined with Julio for a second goal, just as they had on the first one.
"It was going back to Dayne, it just didn't come off right," Gasper said. "It was a stupid mistake and I've learned from it and it won't happen again."
Asked what he can do to address such individual errors, Heath said, "Not a lot, other than change the personnel. I don't feel we're at that stage at this moment in time."
Heath attributed some of those mistakes to center back Bakaye Dibassy's absence when he missed the first two games because of a lingering thigh injury. Brent Kallman started for him alongside Boxall at Seattle. MLS veteran Jukka Raitala started for him last week. Dibassy is listed as out for the Loons' home game Saturday against expansion Austin FC, which has started its inaugural season 1-1.
The Loons' start won't hurt them qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup, which changed its rules this year because of COVID-19. Organizers in March said eight U.S.-based MLS teams qualify based on the regular season's first three weeks. Two weeks ago, the tournament committee said it won't be played starting this spring.
"I know we're in a results-oriented business and ultimately there will come a time when we do start getting worried," Heath said. "But I don't think this is the moment. I feel as though we're a break away from getting everything running again the way we would like it to be."