Loons seek to snap skid at Colorado Saturday

If Friday’s training is any indication, Minnesota United isn’t fazed coming off its first loss at Allianz Field.

The Loons head to Colorado to face the Rapids Saturday night. They held a light training session Friday at the National Sports Center in the sun and heat. It served as preparation to play in the altitude in Denver.

It’s something United defender Eric Miller is quite familiar with. The Woodbury native spent two seasons with Colorado before the Loons acquired him on April 30, 2018. The altitude in Denver will be a challenge, but both teams have to play in it.

“I remember playing one of my first games, somebody from the other team threw up three yards away from me from altitude sickness,” Miller said.

The main challenge for Minnesota United will be overcoming a two-match losing skid. The Loons are coming off their first loss at Allianz Field after three wins and three draws in their first six home MLS matches.

In addition to dropping two straight and three of their past five matches, the Loons have allowed six goals in their last two matches. That includes a pair of goals in stoppage time at Atlanta United in what was an otherwise close match, and allowing a goal in the 86th minute against Philadelphia Union that broke a 2-2 tie. That’s despite out-shooting Philadelphia 29-14, and having 14 shots blocked.

The team is keeping a positive perspective despite the numbers.

“We were disappointed with the result, but my God, it’s probably the best that we’ve played this season in terms of our futbol,” coach Adrian Heath said. “I like the attitude of the guys, they left everything out there trying to get something from the game.”

The Loons head to Colorado Rapids needing to find ways to be more consistent in scoring. The two goals they scored against Philadelphia was the most they’ve had in a match since April 19, a 4-3 loss at Toronto FC.

In the nine matches since, the Loons have scored six goals. Minnesota United has also had four clean sheets since that loss at Toronto. Darwin Quintero remains the top scorer with five goals, but for maybe the first time all season, the Loons have a negative goal differential with 23 scored and 24 allowed.

Minnesota United has just four goals in its last six matches.

“I know what it’s like, I’ve been through barren spells in my own career,” Heath said. “But as a goal scorer, you’ve just got to make sure that you get in the right spots. Keep getting where you know it might land, hopefully you get a break and then hopefully you get on a run because that’s what happens. They normally come in bunches. Our forward players have to believe that the next game is going to be the game.”

Despite the offensive struggles in the goal column, the Loons are firmly in the mix in the Western Conference Playoffs. Minnesota United is currently sixth in the West at 21 points through 15 games. They’re three points clear of a playoff spot with a 6-6-3 mark, and they’re 3-5 on the road.

Colorado enters the contest with a 3-9-3 record, but Minnesota United expects to get tested. They’re coming off a 3-1 win over FC Cincinnati, and their top scorer, Kei Kamara (7 goals), has 119 career MLS goals.

Colorado is unbeaten in its last four matches after starting the season 0-9-2. The Rapids’ first win of the season came against the L.A. Galaxy, the current No. 2 team in the Western Conference.

“We were talking about it yesterday in the training room, I think the West is going to be very, very difficult this year for all those last 4, 5, 6, 7 spots,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a dogfight and I think especially as the summer goes, you’ve got to make sure you’re in striking distance. You’ve got to make sure you’re not chasing in September and October. For us it’s kind of about going on the road, having that mentality and trying to make sure we do whatever we can to get three points.”

Rapids ownership fired coach Anthony Hudson after the team’s dismal start, and they’ve responded under interim coach Conor Casey.

Heath expects the playoff race to come down to the final weeks, and the expectation from the start of the season has been to be involved in that mix.

“I think there’s going to be six of us fighting for three or four spots, and I think that will be until the very end of the season. We just have to make sure we’re one of them,” Heath said.