MINNEAPOLIS - It’s definitely a new normal, but Minnesota United is doing what it can to get back to normalcy after making a run to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament.
The Loons will have their first home game of 2020 at Allianz Field more than five months later than planned, Friday night, against Sporting Kansas City. That’s the same squad that had Minnesota United on the ropes in the first game of group stage play in Florida before the Loons rallied with two goals in stoppage time to get a victory.
Leading up to Friday night’s game, the Loons are enjoying the simplicities of being back home. They’re back in their cars driving, training at the National Sports Center and even got to hold training at Allianz Field on Tuesday.
“Everyone is ecstatic to be back. We miss our home, we miss this place and we especially miss all the fans. So it is a bittersweet feeling to be back on your home field in this amazing stadium, best in the country,” defender Chase Gasper said.
The Loons found out Wednesday they’ll be without one of their key players for the rest of the season. Keeper Tyler Miller had surgery on his hip to heal a nagging injury, and won’t play for the rest of 2020.
“It’s obviously a big blow. He’s gradually been feeling his hip for a few weeks and when we went in and had a little look, it was a little worse than we thought. We felt this was the right time to get it done and make sure he’s ready for the start of next year,” coach Adrian Heath said.
In Miller’s absence, Greg Ranjitsingh will take over keeper duties.
The Loons are resuming MLS play with regional games, looking to build off collecting five points in group stage play in Florida. They’re currently second place in the Western Conference with 11 points, one point behind Friday’s opponent, Sporting Kansas City.
Heath liked what he saw out of the Loons in Florida, despite not coming home with hardware. They finished 3-1-2 in the tournament, and their only loss sent them home one game short of playing for a trophy.
“I thought the guys showed incredible resolve, incredible determination, enthusiasm and desire to win games of futbol,” Heath said. “I thought we could’ve gone all the way, but it wasn’t to be.”
Friday’s game will have a much different feel. There won’t be any fans at Allianz Field, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But they’re still looking forward to playing on their home pitch, which they all agree is in much better shape that it was for their inaugural season.
“Not having to travel on day of to go play a soccer game I think will be an advantage to the home team. We understand how important home field advantage is and it might be even more important in this situation. It’ll be nice to be back on a familiar pitch,” midfielder Ethan Finlay said.
Sporting Kansas City enters Friday’s contest 4-1 on the MLS season, including 2-0 in road matches. New guidelines have road teams traveling to games day of to prevent the exposure and spread of COVID-19. It’s a new adversity for road teams, but Sporting Kansas City will present problems, as they always do, for the Loons.
Heath expects a tight match.
“They’re one of the best road clubs in MLS. We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did in Orlando to win the game, but I fully expect us to do that,” Heath said.