Minnesota United heads south to face FC Dallas Saturday after first MLS loss

Roger Espinoza #15 of Sporting Kansas City dribbles the ball against Chase Gasper #77 of Minnesota United while Ethan Finlay #13 looks on in the second half of the game at Allianz Field on August 21, 2020 in St Paul, Minnesota. Sporting Kansas City d ((Photo by David Berding/Getty Images))

Coming off its first loss of the Major League Soccer season, Minnesota United faces its next challenge Saturday night in an adjusted season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Loons travel to face FC Dallas, and under strict MLS guidelines, will start game day on a plane headed south. Amid all the testing and sanitizing to keep players safe, they also aim to limit possible exposure to the virus by limiting travel and time spent away from home.

Saturday's match is still tentatively on after MLS postponed five matches Wednesday night in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. It was soccer's response to fighting racial injustice after several other professional sports postponed events Wednesday. But the Loons and FC Dallas are one of nine matches that remain scheduled for Saturday.

It’ll be the first time Minnesota United travels to a match site on the day of. The Loons, after losing to Sporting Kansas City 2-1 last Friday, talked with Kansas City players after the game to get their perspective on that experience.

“It’s going to be a challenge absolutely, but this group has faced a lot of challenges. I thought we did extremely well when we were down in Orlando. I think we’ll be ready for it, I know the sports science people are doing everything they can to make sure our bodies are mentally and physically prepared. We’ll be ready to go when it’s game time,” midfielder Ethan Finlay said.

The Loons face an FC Dallas squad that has already played three MLS games since an early exit from the MLS is Back Tournament. Dallas has had two ties and a draw, and sits in 1th in the Western Conference with five points, a 1-1-3 start.

Adrian Heath isn’t about to let traveling the day of a match be a reason for a slow start, or a loss.

“We have to be ready because that’s what’s it’s going to be like for us and it’s going to be like that for everybody. As Kansas proved, you can come out and start the game quickly. So there’s no excuses,” Heath said. “I don’t see it as a problem whatsoever.”

The biggest problem the Loons may face is with Mother Nature. Texas is known for its sweltering hot summers, and Hurricane Laura is barreling down on the Gulf Coast and could impact Texas.

Minnesota United fell into a second place tie in the Western Conference with Seattle Sounders after last Friday’s loss to Sporting KC. It was the first time in six MLS matches the Loons didn’t come out of a match with a point.

They started the 2020 season with a pair of road wins, then got a win and two draws in group stage play in Orlando. Minnesota United now feels it has points to get back after not defending its home turf.

The Loons will have consecutive road matches against Dallas and Houston Dynamo before hosting Real Salt Lake and Dallas. The regional schedules are a new normal, but they’re a necessity to play soccer in the midst of COVID-19.

“When we looked at these six games, having three at home, we obviously wanted and felt like we needed to get points at home. Now we put ourself in a little precarious situation having to go two away games down to the state of Texas where it’s not going to be any cooler than it is here,” Finlay said.

Heath’s message is the same as it was down in Florida: Play better.

“We’ll have to play better than we did against Kansas to win the game,” Heath said.