Minnesota United started the most congested stretch of its season with a 1-0 victory at Austin FC on Saturday — the first of five games over the next 16 days.

The busy period started earlier for center back Michael Boxall and three other starters playing for their national teams in friendlies and World Cup qualifiers across the globe last week.

With New Zealand, Boxall went to Curacao and then Bahrain. Robin Lod, along with backup Jukka Raitala, traveled to their native Finland, followed by Kazakhstan. Romain Metanire went to Congo and his homeland of Madagascar.

They returned to Minnesota a few days before the team’s relatively short flight to Texas. That trip was nothing compared to what the international Loons had to deal with.

Boxall said the marathon travel day home started before sunrise in Bahrain, a small Middle East country, and his first flight went to Istanbul, Turkey, followed by a trans-Atlantic flight to Chicago, then a final, short connection to Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He got home close to midnight and had to deal with a eight-hour time change.

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“Speaking to Robin after the (Austin) game, your body doesn’t quite know what time it is,” Boxall said. “Once you are in the game, you forget about all that. The crowd in Austin was pretty good. You do kind of forget about it, until the final whistle blows, and it’s, ‘OK, I’m exhausted.’ ”

Boxall and the others with their passports recently stamped have had a bit of time to re-adjust, but they must go again Wednesday. Minnesota (11-10-8, 41 points) faces the Philadelphia Union (12-7-10, 46) at 7 p.m. at Allianz Field, followed by Los Angeles FC coming to St. Paul at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Union match is the second and final game against the Eastern Conference team this season, but Minnesota doesn’t have any room to breathe in the West standings. While Minnesota beat Austin, the two teams directly above them and the two below in the standings all won, as well. Just one example of how tight it is; five points separate the fifth- through ninth-place teams in the standings. The top seven teams make the playoffs.

“If we could finish the week with nine points, it would be an incredible week for us,” Loons manager Adrian Heath said.

After the the final four games of this stretch, Minnesota will have a week before the season finale on Decision Day. Heath said playoff seeding will go down to the final date.

The Union are unbeaten in their past six games, but Heath went back even further to point out their consistent run of success, which includes a Supporters Shield for the league’s best overall record in 2020.

“Really difficult team to play against,” Heath said. “Really aggressive in their play with and without the ball. They look to get the ball forward early, then press really aggressively. There are one or two areas we feel as though we can exploit, and it’s for us to see if we can do that. If we do, we feel as though there will be opportunities for us. “

Going into this tight stretch of games, Minnesota has only one injury, and that is to rookie and little-used winger Justin McMaster. Midfielder Wil Trapp, who missed the Austin match for a personal reason, was in training Tuesday and will be available to play the Union on Wednesday.

For the internationals, their bodies have re-acclimated to the timeline, even if the condensed schedule of games will keep them from knowing which day of the week is it.