ST. PAUL — Minnesota United’s season-long aim has been to advance to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s three seasons.
But given the Loons’ current third-place standing in the Western Conference, simply making one of the top seven seeds at the end of the year would be a regression at this point.
The incentive, under the new playoff format, is that the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams will host a first-round, single-elimination game. (The top spot comes with a first-round bye, but Los Angeles FC, with 55 points and a 16-point lead, hold that spot securely.)
United coach Adrian Heath has pegged 50 points as the number to make the playoffs; that seems to build in a little breathing room.
The Loons have 38 points through 24 games. If Minnesota maintains this 1.58 point-per-game pace over the final 10 games, they will have 53 when the regular season wraps in early October.
Minnesota (11-8-5) plays host to Colorado (7-12-5), the West’s 11th-place club, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Allianz Field, then welcomes Orlando City (8-11-6), the East’s ninth-place side, on Saturday in St. Paul.
If the Loons get to 44 points after the weekend, “it gives us a little bit of house money,” Heath said. “We can go on the road and take the game to people and maybe give ourselves an opportunity” to host.
After this week’s pair of home games, the Loons will play five of the final eight on the road. Four are against current Western Conference playoff teams, including two against LAFC, which is on pace for a 77-point season that would smash MLS record for points.
Meanwhile, the Rapids won’t be a cakewalk for Minnesota. Colorado was awful early in the season, enduring an 11-game winless streak. But after firing coach Anthony Hudson, they have improved dramatically under interim Conor Casey. They are 7-3-3 in their past 13 games, including a 1-0 home win over Minnesota on June 8.
“This is a much-improved Colorado side than three or four months ago — in fact, it’s unrecognizable,” Heath said.
But that doesn’t change the benchmark for Minnesota playing at home, where they have lost one of 12 games (7-1-4).
“I don’t expect anything but three points,” Heath said.
New Loons midfielder Thomas Chacon is working through his immigration paperwork in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Monday has been circled as a possible date the club’s young Designated Player might begin training with the Loons. That would put his potential debut on Aug. 22 at Sporting Kansas City.
Fellow newcomer Will Moimbe-Tahrat has completed his immigration paperwork in France and is en route back to Minnesota. The fullback could be back with the club as soon as Wednesday.