Emanuel Reynoso, who is in red-hot form, and Michael Boxall, who is returning from an absence on the field, are expected to lead Minnesota United FC out onto the pitch Sunday after head coach Adrian Heath said the team has a completely healthy roster, minus season-ending injuries to Tyler Miller and Luis Amarilla; defender Ike Opara will also miss the match with an unreleased health issue.
The rollercoaster of 2020 is coming to a close, but not before the Loons make their mark in a playoff run. Boxall is ready to tackle the final obstacle that 2020 is presenting, however: The 2020 Audi MLS Playoffs.
“We’ve had a lot thrown at us this year, previous years we’ve had a lot thrown at us but we’ve just been resilient no matter what. Whether it’s been going through rough patches of form, whether it’s all the [stuff] that’s been thrown at us this year with the pandemic and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Just to see our players really get together. We’re all here for a common cause and that’s to play football, and to be able to help out in other ways in our community like so many of my teammates have done, that’s been the most heartwarming thing for me to see,” Boxall said.
The pandemic has forced Major League Soccer, the teams, players and staff to adapt to differentiating circumstances over the course of the season, but as the season is now coming to a close, Boxall feels a “buzz” among the Loons core.
“We’ve come into this last week and there’s definitely been a buzz about us, we look forward to our playoff game this weekend. Everyone is really sharp. Had a little but more rest and hopefully all the international boys get back in time and we’ll be firing this weekend,” Boxall said.
The Loons will have 13 days of rest between their final regular season match and their first playoff match, the largest amount of rest between matches since the conclusion of the MLS is Back tournament this past July — something both Boxall and Reynoso feel is refreshing and helpful.
For the second straight season, the MNUFC will host a playoff game at Allianz Field, something many did not expect to happen based on a rough patch of form from the Loons in August, but Boxall says the group sees this as an expectation moving forward.
“Watching this team grow, it’s kind of where we expect to be: hosting playoff games. And obviously that was our goal last year, we got there and I think we still left a bit on the table. We want to go, definitely, a lot further than we went last year. It can’t just be about making the playoffs, it’s about making a deep run, and I don’t think MLS Cup is unrealistic for us,” Boxall said.
Unrealistic is right, if you’re someone who watches this team on a regular basis. The core attacking duo of Reynoso and Kevin Molino have combined for 21 goals this season, including all three in the Loons 3-0 win on decision day in the final match of the season against FC Dallas. Reynoso, who leads the team in assists, and Molino, who leads the team in goals, have created a partnership that is flourishing at the perfect time. The Rapids, however, are a familiar foe for the two, and both know how difficult the match will be.
“It’s going to be a tough match. It’ll be back and forth. We have to try and play like we did in the last game [against Dallas]. I think we played a great game as a whole group, as teammates. Now we rest, prepare for Colorado Rapids because it’s going to be a tough game, but we have the advantage of playing at home so we’re going to give it our best,” Reynoso said.
For the Loons, everything that has presented itself as an obstacle to the team has helped build character and strength among the roster. In an interview with media Friday afternoon, Heath expressed how much confidence he had in his side, stating that they’re ready to play and are excited to hold the fort that is Allianz Field. Heath expects his team to hold the fort, too, mentioning that they should be able to beat any team at home. For the Loons, it’s a waiting game — they remain patient until Sunday, Nov. 22 for their 2020 playoff debut.
Kickoff against the Colorado Rapids is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.