The symphonic tune of the hit record Wonderwall, by Oasis, was echoing throughout the Midway neighborhood in St. Paul Sunday night as the song played over the loudspeakers at Allianz Field. The occasion? A first-ever MLS Playoff victory for Minnesota United FC in a 3-0 rout over the Colorado Rapids in Round 1 of the 2020 MLS Playoffs.
The Loons victory came on the shoulders of leading goalscorer Kevin Molino who nabbed his second straight brace in back-to-back games, the first MNUFC player ever to score multiple goals in two straight matches. Argentine attacker Emanuel Reynoso added two assists in Minnesota’s ninth straight match undefeated, another club record reached on the night.
“So, very, very pleased for a lot of different reasons. Pleased for the group. Pleased for our supporters more than anything. Pleased for our ownership group because I think they’re starting to see the sort of investment on the field now starting to take shape,” Heath said following a conversation about how his side has overcome adversity and player eligibility uncertainty over the past two weeks.
Sunday evening was four years in the making for MNUFC, but for Heath, it’s been a long-time coming. The Loons Gaffer earned his first-ever playoff win in MLS, a feat that he’s been trying to achieve since his days as the manager for Orlando City SC when they first entered the league in 2015.
“Well, it means we’re getting better here. And everybody knows what my feelings are about Orlando,” Heath said. “It’s a part of my life that I’ll never forget and something I’ll always be eternally grateful for. But now I’m here. This is what I’m trying to do. I’ve said to you before, I’d like for this to be my last job. I want to be successful here, that I’m gonna be here for the next three, four, five years, whatever, however long it takes. And, if we can keep getting better, I have a better chance of doing what I want to do. Which, this would be my last job.”
The combination play between Molino, Robin Lod and Reynoso was on display for the Loons in their 3-0 victory, with Lod (1) and Molino (2) scoring on the evening and Reynoso assisting on two of the goals. Molino’s last five goals have all been assisted by Reynoso. The duo are creating one of the deadliest attacks in the league, and their confidence is coming at the perfect time for the Loons.
In a postgame press conference with ESPN, Molino praised the work rates and skills that Reynoso brings to the pitch for his team. “Yeah, this kid is quality,” Molino said in his postgame interview with ESPN. “His awareness on the field is fantastic, and I just want to continue working with him for the rest of the season and see where it takes us.”
Heath felt similar postgame, praising not just Reynoso, but his entire attacking trio of “magicians.”
“Well, I’m being perfectly honest, if Robin Lod, [Emanuel] Reynoso and [Kevin] Molino are fit and healthy and all playing well, I don’t think there’s many better attacking midfielders behind a striker in the league than them,” Heath said postgame Sunday. Heath went on to mention that the team is currently undergoing contract negotiations with Molino, who is in the final year of his contract as a Loon. “Well, you’re never 100 percent, when players are in the final year. We’ve sort of left the discussions with him. I think we’re very, very close and hopefully we can get to the stage where he signs a new deal and he stays here.”
The Loons primary focus this offseason will be to ink Molino to a new deal, but currently, their main focus is continuing their MLS Cup run — a task that captain Michael Boxall says is “achievable,” given the form and state of the team at the moment. For now, though, the Loons are focused on their Semifinal opponent: Their I-35W rivals, Sporting Kansas City.
“Heading into the next game, it’s something where we are excited for the challenge and we can keep going and we still have a lot further to go in this playoff run,” Boxall said. “For most of the season there have not been many games where, I felt, it wasn’t a game we shouldn’t get something out of, particularly when we are playing our best. Like every other team we have dealt through dips in form, through injuries, through a lot of breaks in the season, and here we are in the conference semifinals.”
The Loons, who are riding a nine-match unbeaten streak, will play Sporting Kansas City for a 4th time this season. During the MLS is Back tournament this past July, the Loons snuck by with a 2-1 victory over Peter Vermes’ side, but SKC got the best of the Loons twice during the regular season, with 2-1 and 1-0 victories over Minnesota.
The date and time of the match are still TBD, but because SKC is the higher seed, Children’s Mercy Park will be the venue where the match takes place. The winner of that match will advance to the Western Conference Finals for a chance at a berth in MLS Cup 2020.