Loons have themselves — not refs — to blame for precarious position for MLS Cup Playoffs

John Autey/Pioneer Press/TNS

After Minnesota United lost 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night, manager Adrian Heath and center back Michael Boxall said poor officiating contributed to the result.

While it played a role, blaming the referees distracts from MNUFC’s primary issues.

The Loons failed to convert multiple scoring chances and a glaring defensive lapse at left fullback led to their latest letdown at Allianz Field this season.

Referee Tori Penso didn’t call a foul on Andreu Fountas for impeding Emanuel Reynoso at the 82:04 mark in the second half. On replay, Fountas was not seen grabbing Reynoso, who appears to embellish the amount of contact. Fountas had been booked with yellow card in the first half and a second would have put K.C. down to 10 men, ratcheting up the stakes within the no-call. It wasn’t a denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, either, with another K.C. defender within a few yards of the action. More importantly, the no-call did not have a domino effect to the goal conceded.

The game played on — despite Heath gesturing on the sideline and boos coming from fans — and the Loons won back possession at 82:20. They had it until Hassani Dotson was dispossessed at the top of the Loons’ 18-yard box at 82:40. Any momentum from Penso’s decision had been nullified.

Over the next 25 seconds, Sporting built up possession and found Gadi Kinda at the far post, and the Designated Player easily got by Loons rookie Ethan Bristow to score the game-winner.

MNUFC, which had expected goals advantage of 1.7 to 0.9 over K.C., has the second-fewest home wins in the Western Conference this season. With three home games still remaining, United has dropped 25 total points in St. Paul this year; that’s already more points dropped than in any full season since the team moved into Allianz Field in 2019.

An inability to take care of their own business at home is the primary reason the Loons are clinging to a Western Conference playoff spot.

Playoff push

Starting Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Galaxy, MNUFC has six regular-season games remaining, with three against current playoff teams. That includes first-place St. Louis City coming to Allianz Field on Saturday and a midweek road game at second-place Los Angeles FC on Oct. 4.

The West is clogged — only 10 points separate second and 12th place. Eighth-place MNUFC (37 points) is five points from third, but only two points from being shut out of the playoffs in 10th place. Seventh is coveted with it clear of the wild-card match between Nos. 8 and 9 to start the MLS Cup Playoffs.

“I can’t see it doing anything other than going to the wire,” Heath said Monday of the playoff standings.

United has a game in hand on the three clubs around it (San Jose, Portland and Kansas City). The Loons play two games against 13th-place Galaxy, but star Riqui Puig and Co. have the talent to bring ruin.

Change at left back?

With Bristow struggling, will Heath make a change at left back against the Galaxy?

He said Monday he hadn’t decided the starting lineup, but either way, Bristow has to make his own better decisions in the moment.

“He can’t be all or nothing in them situations,” Heath said. “If you are gonna go (challenge Kinda), you have to win the ball. Then that was a mistake.”

Joseph Rosales is a candidate to come in for Bristow.

DP spot opens next year

Mender Garcia will no longer be a Designated Player for the Loons next season, but the club is expected to pick up his option for 2024.

This means the Loons will have one DP spot open for next season, with Emanuel Reynoso and Teemu Pukki occupying the other two.

Garcia’s DP label has come with higher expectations, but the 24-year-old Colombian forward is a restricted DP, not a classic high-salary DP such as Reynoso or L.A. Galaxy’s Chicharito, for instance. His transfer fee put him one rung below that real DP level, in a so-called “restricted” DP level, since he joined in August 2022. He has three goals in 973 MLS minutes this year.


Caden Clark will not be an Under-22 Initiative signing for MNUFC next season. The club has one spot open under that roster designation for 2024. Bongi Hlongane and Sang Bin Jeong are in the other two U22 spots. … One Loons academy prospect to watch is 16-year-old Darius Randell. He has trained with the Loons’ first team for the past week and has played a few minutes in six MNUFC2 games this season. Heath has been impressed with Randell, adding the youngster has position versatility. … Micky Tapias (groin), Wil Trapp (illness) and Kervin Arriaga (knee) each played in a small-sided match in Blaine on Monday. Tapias and Trapp might play Wednesday, while Arriaga is a candidate to return this weekend. Arriaga had surgery on his meniscus and has been out since July 15.

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