After two road losses, Minnesota United looking forward to home opener
ST. PAUL -- On the heels of two straight losses, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath pointed to the big picture on Tuesday, April 2.
The Loons can see the end of their five-game road swing to start the season, and it’s unlike what 10 of the 11 other MLS Western Conference teams have had to face. At 2-2, Minnesota has six points and is in the early playoff picture, and after Saturday’s game against the surprisingly scuffling New York Red Bulls (1-2-1) in Harrison, N.J., Minnesota will have nearly 30 percent of its away schedule in the books.
Before Allianz Field opens April 13, eight of the 11 other clubs in the West will have played at least three home games during that stretch, including the top five teams in the standings. Two clubs will have played four.
“We got to put everything in perspective,” Heath said.
A draw against New York — and an added point for the standings — would put the Loons at seven total, which is smack dab on the 1.4-point-per-game pace to make the MLS Cup playoffs over the past four seasons.
While “disappointed” with United’s 2-1 loss Saturday at New England, Heath said: “I’m not overly concerned. … I don’t think we did enough in the game to win the game at the Revs, but that is something that we’ve spoke about. We’ll try mend it.”
Part of this context, however, is what could have been for Minnesota. The Loons’ first lost this season, 3-2 to Los Angeles Galaxy, on March 16, came with L.A. missing its two best attackers, and their defeat last weekend was the Revolution’s first victory of the season.
Two other Western Conference teams (Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake) will have played two home games, the next fewest, in the opening six weeks of the season.
Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers started 0-3-1 as they endure a 12-game stretch on the road while their stadium, Providence Park, undergoes a $75 million expansion. They won’t play in Oregon until June.
Romario Ibarra, who started the first three games this season, was a surprise absence from the Loons’ 18-man roster Saturday.
Heath said the decision was made after Ibarra suffered a “slight” injury in Thursday’s training session in Blaine, Minn. This came after he played 71 minutes for the Ecuadorian national team in a 1-0 loss to the U.S. in Orlando on March 21. He didn’t play in a 0-0 tie with Honduras in Harrison, N.J., last Tuesday.
“He had a slight knock on Thursday out here and on the back of the travel being away for 10 days … we just felt it was better to (rest him). I was going to change it anyway, so we felt like we would be better leaving him,” Heath said.
Ibarra was not limited in Tuesday’s training session, scoring a few goals in drills on a condensed field.
Rasmus Schuller, who was out with a thigh bruise injury from his stint with the Finland national team, was a limited participant in Tuesday’s training. “A lot better than we thought,” Heath said of Schuller’s injury. “We thought he’d have no chance for this weekend. Now … we will probably have a decision to make.” … The Loons will have their first practice at Allianz Field on Wednesday. It is closed to the public.