Loons take 7-match win streak into FC Dallas

When you’re winning, life is good.

Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath, while never completely satisfied, is a happy camper these days with his Loons squad. He wanted it known Friday after training that he’s the club’s reigning “horseshoe” champion. It’s a game he plays with his Minnesota United players at the end of training sessions.

Heath should be smiling and having some fun. Minnesota United (9-7-3) has won seven straight matches, and has become one of the top scoring teams in MLS. They haven’t lost since June 8, a 1-0 setback at Colorado Rapids. In their last seven matches, including two Open Cup victories and a friendly, they’ve out-scored opponents by a combined 22-9.

The stretch includes tying a franchise record with seven goals in a win over FC Cincinnati. Simply put, the Loons are on a roll.

“We reminded the guys this morning of what’s got us the success that we’ve had lately. It’s been hard work, discipline, playing with a real enthusiasm and a drive in our play and if we continue to do that, we’ll win games,” Heath said.

It’s why they had a full training session Friday, ahead of Saturday night’s key match-up against FC Dallas. The workout the day before a game is usually light and doesn’t go the full time. With the opportunity to pull away from Dallas this weekend with another home win, the Loons did everything they could to prepare.

Minnesota United is 5-1-3 at Allianz Field this season, and could jump to third in the West with a win Saturday night. More importantly, they gain separation from FC Dallas, who sits just one point behind the Loons going into Saturday night’s match.

“Every game is important, and we need to take what we’ve done well in the last five or six games and carry it over into this weekend,” defender Ike Opara said. “Guys should be feeling good about what we’ve done, but it’s just the start.”

Minnesota United’s most recent victory, a 6-1 dismantling of New Mexico United at Allianz Field Wednesday night, got the Loons to the semifinals of Open Cup. They learned Thursday they’ll host the Portland Timbers in that round on Aug. 7.

It was a big night for Angelo Rodriguez, who recorded a first-half hat trick with goals in the 10th, 18th and 45th minutes that gave Minnesota United a 5-1 lead at the half over New Mexico. Darwin Quintero and Jan Gregus added the other first half goals.

Miguel Ibarra got the final goal of the victory in the 62nd minute after the New Mexico keeper made an initial save on Kevin Molino’s shot, but the rebound created a wide open net.

The Loons cruised to the Open Cup quarterfinal win, and are now one win away from playing for a championship. They have to get by Portland in the semifinals first, but could feasibly play for a trophy in front of their home crowd.

“It’s big for this organization to be able to host that. Hopefully we can advance to the finals and hopefully host that as well, but we’ve set out a goal to try to win as many trophies as we could,” Opara said. “Was it realistic? I said earlier in the year I don’t know, but we’re here and that’s the cool thing about it. We want to win and we’re not taking it for granted.”

With the six goals scored on Wednesday, Minnesota United is now second in the West and third in MLS with 36 goals in 19 matches.

Perhaps the most impressive number the Loons have lately is in the number of injuries: Zero. Next Saturday’s match at Real Salt Lake ends a stretch of seven matches in 22 days. They’ve had a fit and healthy squad for a majority of the stretch. It’s the first time Heath can recall in his coaching career with Minnesota that he’s had a consistently healthy lineup, and he credits the team’s training staff.

Heath’s preparation for FC Dallas went as far as him checking out their web site. Their players commented on coming into Allianz Field expecting to win. His response was that the Loons need to be ready.

FC Dallas comes into Saturday’s game having gone 3-2-2 in its last seven matches. They’re just 2-6-1 on the road this season.

“We have to go and try and impose ourselves on the opposition and make sure that we go and get three more points because it seems the last few weeks every time we win, everybody around us wins so it doesn’t affect the table too much,” Heath said. “If we can keep that pressure on, every home game is going to be really, really important between now and the end of the season. Tomorrow is another one of them.”