MINNEAPOLIS - It wasn’t the start anyone wanted or expected after Minnesota United made a run to the Western Conference finals to end last season.
The Loons got off to an 0-4 start, getting out-scored 10-3 in the process. Minnesota United has since appeared to have found its footing. A little more than two weeks ago, the Loons got their first win of the season after beating Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 on Ramon Abila’s first career goal in Major League Soccer.
Three days later, another 1-0 win after a goal for Robin Lod off a corner kick, and a second straight clean sheet for Tyler Miller. That was nearly two weeks ago, and now Minnesota United takes a two-match win streak into Real Salt Lake Saturday night.
"There’s nothing like winning games to instill a better confidence in the group. Obviously everybody has calmed down a little bit, and I know what it’s like when you start the season like we did," Loons coach Adrian Heath said Thursday. "It would be nice to go into the game at Salt Lake and continue the run for sure, that would really set us up for a couple weeks to get some work done."
It’s important to get points out of Saturday’s road trip, with the team getting a three-week break as many players head off for international play on various national teams. Heath may have some extra reinforcements for Saturday’s match as well.
The team has added French attacker Adrien Hunou after spending most of his professional career in the Stade Rennais system, where he scored 38 goals in seven seasons. He’s played in the Champions League, Coupe de France, Coupe de Ligue and Europa League.
The Loons also added Argentinian midfielder Franco Fragapane, who has 32 career goals since his professional debut in 2012. Heath said Thursday both could be available for selection for Saturday’s match.
"I had more than one player come up after training yesterday and say these two are going to be fantastic for us. We know we’ve got quality, now we’ve got to integrate them the best way possible to get the best out of the players around them and the best out of them," Heath said.
"Truth be told I’m very pleased, very happy. I met a very good group, they welcomed me very well and they all received me very well too," Fragapane said.
The Loons might be taking an extra chip on their shoulder into Saturday’s match. The last time the two teams met on April 24, Real Salt Lake came out with a 2-1 win and keeper David Ochoa punted the ball after the match into Minnesota United supporters. The incident caused a skirmish, and plenty of jawing between the two teams as well as discipline and fines from MLS in the following days.
Ochoa is currently away from the team and won’t play Saturday.
"They’ll remember it, but their keeper is away. We won’t have to deal with that one, that’s the best way of describing that," Heath said. "The games against them are traditionally really tight so I don’t think that will be any different. It’s never an easy place to go."
It’s a pivotal night for the Loons to get their third straight win. Their next match won’t come until June 19.
"We know this weekend is important to us for sure," Heath said.