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Minnesota United starts big week Wednesday at Salt Lake

Third-place Minnesota (13-9-5) travels to sixth-place Real Salt Lake (10-8-9) for an 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

MLS: Houston Dynamo FC at Minnesota United FC
Head coach Adrian Heath looks on during the second half of the game against the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 27 at Allianz Field.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — Is Minnesota United great?

The Loons have amassed the most points in MLS since late June — 26 out of a possible 33 — with a 8-1-2 record, and manager Adrian Heath called it an unprecedented run in his coaching career.

But it’s all prelude to this, the home stretch of seven regular-season games before the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Third-place Minnesota (13-9-5) travels to sixth-place Real Salt Lake (10-8-9) for an 8:30 p.m. CT kickoff Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Then MNUFC returns to Allianz Field to play fourth-place FC Dallas (11-8-10) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

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Minnesota locked in the sixth seed and will travel to No. 3 FC Dallas for a first-round match next week.
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The Loons’ kit men are responsible for setting up the team’s oval-shaped locker room at Allianz Field, with everything players need to perform — from emergency headgear down to their socked toes.
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MNUFC went into Saturday’s match in California with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help. That assistance came with Real Salt Lake’s draw with L.A. Galaxy late Saturday night, but Minnesota didn’t do its part of the equation.
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With Minnesota’s playoff positioning slipping in three straight scoreless losses, a goal and a point will be precious. But they lost points from a winning position at home.
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After a slow start, the Loons ascended to be one of the league’s best through late August, netting 26 out of the next 33 points during that stretch.
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Matt Navratil, a 26-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota, is a diehard Loons fan and a season-ticket holder who travels with his parents, Scott and Chris, to a few road games each season.
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The Loons dealt with a steady stream of pressure, but made the most of their few opportunities to take all three points on the road.

The Loons have 44 points to 43 for Dallas and 39 for RSL. Minnesota and RSL have each played 27 games; Dallas has played 29 and is idle midweek.

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“Everything is so tight in there,” Heath said of the Western Conference standings. “… Two really important games. If we could continue this run, then it would set up up nicely for the remaining schedule.”

Minnesota’s final five games include first-place LAFC, two clubs just outside the playoff field (Portland and Vancouver) and two near the Western Conference basement (Kansas City and San Jose).

Given the current stretch of three games in eight days, Heath said there will be some rotation to his lineup at Salt Lake, where it’s expected to be more than 90 degrees at kickoff. That’s on top of playing at altitude. The squad refresh is due to some players having heavy workloads and with one eye on Saturday’s home game.

RSL will be the first full game without Bakaye Dibassy, the mainstay center back lost to a season-ending quad injury in the 2-1 win over Houston on Saturday. Brent Kallman is expected to slot in next to Michael Boxall, but his backups Callum Montgomery (thigh) is out and Nabi Kibunguch (knee) is questionable.

Heath said Monday the club was not going to add a free agent before the roster freeze deadline Friday.

Left back Kemar Lawrence (knee) is also out for Wednesday’s game, but he was involved in training Tuesday in Minnesota and could return for Saturday against Dallas.

Minnesota is winless at RSL, going 0-3-1 since joining MLS in 2017, but beat Salt Lake 3-2 on July 3. MNUFC was in 11th place at the time, but has turned its season around since then. Now supporters will see if the Loons can hold their ground into early October.

Briefly

The MLS Cup Playoffs schedule was announced Tuesday: First round matchups will be Oct. 15-17, with doubleheaders that Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Conference semifinals will be doubleheaders on Thursday, Oct. 20 and Sunday, Oct. 23. Conference finals will both be Sunday, Oct. 30. MLS Cup will be the showcase on Saturday, Nov. 5.

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