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A sold-out chartered plane carrying Minnesota United fans to Portland for Sunday's first-round playoff game leaves that morning and returns that night.

In between, they'll try to make Providence Park's hometown advantage a little bit of home in a stadium where the Loons haven't lost since April 2018, early in their second MLS season.

"It'll be nice," coach Adrian Heath said. "We've generally had a few people there, but not in the numbers we'll have there this weekend."

Heath remembers a "healthy crowd" of fans traveling to Chicago for a game.

"They certainly made themselves heard and we have to make sure that we give them something to be excited about and to make them a part of the game," Heath said. "Sometimes crowds can influence players or sometimes a player has to influence the crowd."

Fourth-seeded Portland went 11-4-2 at 25,215-capacity Providence Park this season. The Loons went 3-7-7 away from Allianz Field.

A plane-full of visiting fans are barely a spot in a sea of green, but Heath maintains they can make a difference.

"It reminds you who you're playing for, who you're representing," Heath said. "Never let the lads forget who they play for and their responsibilities to the people. My dad used to take me to the games and say to me, 'When you're a player, you have an obligation to give everything you've got for the people who actually pay to go and watch you play.'

The Loons will also host a watch party at Allianz Field, with fans invited to come in at 3:30 p.m., ahead of the 4:30 game.

Long way home

Loons veteran defender Michael Boxall traveled 7,200 miles to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and back again, all to play a friendly for his New Zealand national team against Gambia on Tuesday. Loons teammates Robin Lod, Romain Metanire and Jukka Raitala all traveled long distances overseas as well to play World Cup qualifiers.

All were back at the team's Blaine training facility by Thursday. Heath called all four players fit and available for Sunday.

Boxall returned after a two-hour drive to Dubai, a 14-hour flight to Seattle and a six-hour layover before his last flight back to Minnesota after more than a week away. He called getting back in a routine ready to play by Sunday "is not the easiest thing."

"You can't take naps or go to bed whenever you feel like it because my wife has been pretty swamped with the two kids by herself," he said. "It will help to go to Portland, get a good night's sleep and a few naps in. It doesn't really hit you until the evening, so an extra day on Sunday and an afternoon game helps."

Getting ready for 2022

Boxall said he traveled so far to play managed minutes as a second-half sub for his national team that still can qualify for next November's World Cup.

"Obviously, 2022 is a big year for us," Boxall said. "Ever since I first started kicking a football, playing for the national team has always been a goal and something I really love doing. It's a special group. Everyone comes from different corners of the world. It's something I really want to be a part of. I think we have a good chance of getting to Qatar about 12 months from now."

Abbott stepping down

Tartan High School graduate Mark Abbott is stepping down as MLS president and deputy commissioner at the end of 2022, according to multiple reports. Abbott, 57, who was the league's first employee in 1993 and one of its main architects, is reportedly leaving to pursue other business opportunities.