Minnesota United has a chance to secure its first playoff berth in franchise history Sunday provided it defeats the Portland Timbers and gets some help from either Atlanta United or New York City FC.
The Loons (14-6-10) enter play third in the Western Conference on 48 points with four matches remaining and also are five points clear of the eighth-place Timbers (13-4-13). They have two scenarios in which they can clinch a playoff spot since reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United defeated San Jose on Saturday.
The second scenario is more straightforward as a win by Minnesota coupled with a loss or tie by FC Dallas to the Eastern Conference leader Sunday would prevent the Hoops from passing the Loons while having fewer wins – the first tiebreaker in the MLS playoff structure.
Adrian Heath’s is back on the road for the fourth time in five matches and looking to build on last Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. Darwin Quintero had a brace on either side of halftime, erasing a first-half deficit in the 20th minute and scoring the go-ahead goal six minutes after the restart before substitute Ethan Finley sealed the victory seven minutes from time.
“[I’m] delighted with the win and delighted with the performance,” Heath told the club’s official website. “I’m pleased that we managed to get [Kevin] Molino, [Robin] Lod and [Darwin] Quintero on the field, all looking sharp. I think that they are going to be big for us moving forward.
“In light of how the other results went for us, it couldn’t really have been a better day. We let ourselves down in Houston with a really poor performance but the reaction from the group, to bounce back, was excellent.”
With everyone healthy, Heath was able to use his preferred 4-2-3-1 set-up as midfielders Quintero, Kevin Molino, and Robin Lod all operated efficiently underneath striker Mason Toye. It was also Quintero’s second brace of the season, with other coming at Toronto FC in April.
The Loons will not have defender Brent Kallman for the remainder of the season and the playoffs after he violated the league’s PED policy. Kallman, who started 14 of the 16 games he played, will begin serving a 10-match ban with this match, and any part of the suspension not completed this season will carry over into 2020.
Portland’s heavily back-loaded home schedule after early season renovations to Providence Park has not played out as imagined in terms of providing a boost for their playoff push. The Timbers have split the previous eight matches (4-0-4) on this 10-match homestand, which wraps up Wednesday versus New England, and have dropped back-to-back contests after absorbing a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night.
The return of striker Brian Fernandez and late introduction of playmaker Sebastian Blanco was not enough to prevent Portland from being shut out for the second straight match – the first time that has happened this season – and any chance at nicking a point late vanished after Jorge Moreira’s challenge on Marc Rzatkowski in second-half stoppage time led to a penalty converted by Daniel Royer.
“We need to be sure that we keep believing in ourselves. We need to make sure that we continue to work hard because it’s still in our hands to make the playoffs,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said post-match. “It’s just very disappointing because these points we should have been strong to get them at home against a team that we know exactly what is coming and how they play. Unfortunately, we didn’t get what we needed.”
While Portland has taken 38 shots in its last two home matches, only seven have been on target.
The Loons are looking to do the double over the Timbers after Finlay’s penalty in the 92nd minute proved decisive in a 1-0 win Aug. 4. The home team has won all five matches between the clubs since Minnesota joined the MLS in 2017.
(Darwin Quintero photo courtesy Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports)