After Chase Gasper drilled Minnesota United’s winning kick in the penalty shootout against the Columbus Crew on Tuesday, he delivered an impassioned message to the TV audience.
“Don’t count out the Loons.”
He explained how analysts and experts always seem to assume United won’t succeed. Such as in its first knockout-round match against Columbus, which was a heavy favorite after not previously conceding a goal in the MLS is Back Tournament.
Yet the Loons scored first, hung on for a 1-1 draw and persevered through penalties. Their victory sets up a quarterfinal matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team United has already defeated this season.
United coach Adrian Heath remarked before the game how his team “probably won’t turn up because everybody’s crowned [Columbus] champions already.”
“People think that I do it deliberately, but I didn’t read or hear or see anything before the game that suggested we had a chance,” Heath said after Tuesday’s game. “Well, the most important people thought they had a chance, and the most important people are the players and our staff.”
One skeptic was Columbus coach Caleb Porter. He said ahead of the matchup he never overlooked how the Loons, with their current 4-0-2 record, were “the best team” his side has faced so far.
“He likes to sandbag his team a little bit and take the attention off them and put it on the other team,” Porter said, per MLSsoccer.com. “The problem with that is everybody knows they have a good team.”
Heath, though, said his players aren’t “silly, they read stuff,” and feel there’s truth behind their underdog status. That might stem from United’s first couple of seasons in MLS, even though the roster has almost entirely turned over since then. In their inaugural 2017 season, the Loons finished with the fourth-worst record in the league at 10-18-6. They allowed 70 goals, a league record at the time, and 2018 was only marginally better.
Last season, though, United made the MLS playoffs for the first time. And in this interrupted 2020 season, the Loons are undefeated.
That’s what had some, such as ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman, a little exasperated at the Loons’ Jan Brady act in this MLS bunch. Directly after Gasper’s interview, Twellman called the assertion that the Loons are ignored “a little fraudulent.”
“Please tell me all these experts that are counting out Minnesota United,” Twellman said on the postgame broadcast. “They’re one of the top three teams in the league, and you tell me because we like what we see from Columbus … that all of a sudden, we’ve forgotten about the Loons?”
United goalkeeper Tyler Miller explained how the Loons might be easy to underestimate.
“We also have our special players, maybe they’re not as big of names. So maybe that’s where we get kind of lost in the mix,” Miller said. “But I think that [against Columbus] and constantly, we’ve proved that you don’t need to have special names if you have a strong team. … We may not have these huge superstars on our team, but we have a really strong camaraderie, which I think is something that’s very, very special.”
Heath agreed the team is very “united” and believes it can win. So whether the Loons are right or wrong in their interpretation of how they’re viewed, it’s fueling them.
“We don’t really care what anybody else thinks about our team,” Miller said. “We’re confident in ourselves. We have our own inner confidence that we thrive off of.
“And it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about us.”