A narrow, last-minute goal from Minnesota United FC striker Aaron Schoenfeld gifted the Loons three points Saturday evening in Cincinnati. MNUFC currently are fifth in the Western Conference and were lucky to come away with three points following on-field struggles all evening. Schoenfeld’s last-gasp goal was his first from open-play in 2020, and his first as a Loon.
The win brought their points-per-game tally to 1.5, which would put them at fourth in the West ahead of Los Angeles FC, who occupy that spot through total points, but have a PPG tally of 1.47. PPG has become a focus as rumors swirl that MLS will alter qualification for the 2020 playoffs because some teams were not able to play as many matches as others due to the pandemic.
If MLS were to do such a thing, it would completely alter the shape of spots 4-8 in the Western Conference playoffs. Heading into the final stretch of regular season games, teams either have three or four matches remaining on their respective schedules. There is little margin for error left for teams who are either on the border of the playoff line or that are pushing to climb up the table.
Minnesota United sits in a position where PPG would be beneficial for them.
Seeds 1-4 in the West are given home field advantage in the playoffs. Currently the Loons would not be playing their first-round game at Allianz Field because LAFC is the 4-seed. However, if PPG is the chosen model for qualification, the Loons would be in a more favorable position heading into their match against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday evening. With a game in hand, the 1.5 PPG tally from Minnesota compared to LAFC’s 1.47 gives the Loons slightly better odds during this final stretch of matches.
FC Dallas sits sixth in the West with 1.39 PPG. If PPG is the chosen model, the Loons would simply have to win two out of their final four home matches to be guaranteed a finish above them; a win against them on decision day would only help that matter, too.
The battle for the final home playoff spot in the West is here, and both Minnesota United and LAFC are ready to fight for it. How will it shape up? What will the outcomes look like? Who can or will change the destiny of each team? With two weeks left, everything is on the line for these two sides.
The Loons have four matches left this season, and three of them are against teams who are currently *IN* the Western Conference playoffs, assuming PPG is the chosen system:
- Colorado Rapids on Oct. 28
- SKC on Nov. 1
- Chicago on Nov. 4
- FCD on Nov. 8
The Loons have a game in hand over LAFC, and simply by looking at their schedule, it would be fair to say they end their season against more favorable opposition than LAFC does — it’s seven points or bust over the final two weeks for MNUFC. If they are still chasing the goal of a home playoff match, they cannot afford to drop points more than once.
Colorado and Chicago are both teams that there should be an automatic three points, but SKC and FCD will prove more troublesome. The Loons have gotten a result against both once already this season, but they’ll have to dig deep against the best in the West and another team that could still make a late move for fourth, if both LAFC and MNUFC struggle in their remaining matches.
The Loons will have to switch gears and start finding the back of the net if they want playoff soccer — which would be outdoors in Minnesota, in November.
Los Angeles FC
LAFC are in pole position to make a late surge towards the top in the West, simply because Carlos Vela, the reigning MLS MVP, has returned to the XI from injury. Vela scored the eventual game winner last Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy in his first return to play since late August when he suffered an MCL injury against Seattle.
LAFC has managed to stay in the middle of the pack during his absence, but with his return on the cards, anything is possible for Bob Bradley’s team. LAFC’s final three matches are against Houston on Oct. 28, San Jose on Nov. 1 and against Portland on Nov. 8. Regardless of foe, getting six out of a possible nine points is crucial for the goal in mind of a home playoff match.
Both Houston and Portland will prove to be troublesome, however. The Dynamo have one of the best attacks of late in MLS play, and Portland has consistently been towards the top of the West throughout 2020 — consistently showcasing their talent every week. LAFC will have their hands full and will need more than a healthy Vela to find results against two talented Western Conference sides.