Minnesota United vs Sporting KC in MLS Cup Playoffs Thursday on FOX 9

Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath didn’t hold anything back Monday when talking about the team’s playoff match at Sporting Kansas City Thursday night, calling it it probably the biggest game in the history of the Loons’ franchise.

The Western Conference semifinal game, originally set for Wednesday night, was moved to Thursday and will be aired on FOX 9 at 7 p.m. CT. The winner moves on and will face the Seattle Sounders/FC Dallas winner next Monday for the conference title.

The Loons got to the semifinals after shutting out Colorado Rapids 3-0, a night where Kevin Molino scored twice and Emanuel Reynoso assisted on all three goals. It was the franchise’s first playoff win, after earning its first home playoff game last year and losing 2-1 to the L.A. Galaxy.

Minnesota United should be as confident as it’s ever been heading into a big game. The Loons are unbeaten in their last nine matches, going 5-0-4 over the stretch. Their last loss came back on Sept. 23 at Columbus Crew.

“This is the best team we’ve ever had and it’s playing with confidence, so let’s take that to the next stage,” Heath told reporters on Monday.

Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City have developed a Western Conference rivalry with close matches over the years. The Loons faced Kansas City in their return to MLS play in Florida, the first game in more than three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trailing 1-0, Minnesota United scored twice in extra time to steal a win.

Kansas City was down to 10 players after their keeper got a red card. The Loons tied the game in the 92nd minute on an own goal from Kansas City, then got the game-winner from Molino in the final minute of extra time.

The two teams played three more times in the regular season, with Sporting Kansas City winning 2-1 at Allianz Field on Aug. 21. Three weeks later, Kansas City earned a 1-0 home shutout. They also played to a scoreless draw.

Sporting Kansas City earned the No. 1 seed for the Western Conference Playoffs with 12 wins in 21 matches, and 39 points. They’re 5-3-1 at Children’s Mercy Park this season. Goals, and wins, have been hard to come by for the Loons at Kansas City. They’ll have up to 3,000 fans and will make the atmosphere as loud as it can be.

“They’re excellent at home. I’ve made no secrets of the fact that when we first got through this and we knew we were going to play KC, I said the only thing we have to do is play an awful lot better than we have done. We have been, at best, awful at times there. Hopeless at times, and we have to address that,” Heath said. “We have to play better, we have to go in there with a different mindset. We’ve proved when we’ve beaten them a couple times at home that we can beat this team and we can set up in a way that makes it difficult for them.”

Minnesota United knows it will be a tough match. They expect a tough match, and they’re embracing that challenge. Heath feels the current Loons’ squad is the best he’s had yet to go get a playoff win.

Kansas City has always been a tough match-up, but the Loons also haven’t lost a game in more than two months.

“We can’t do anything about what’s gone on. That’s gone, that’s in the past. All I know is this is the best group of players in maybe the best form and the best confidence that we’ve had going to KC,” Heath said. “That doesn’t count for an awful lot if we don’t perform on the day. If we play like we can, we’re capable of winning this game. We have too much quality on this team now not to think that.”

A win gets Minnesota United one step closer to the MLS Cup Finals.