Photo via Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
I am a relatively new fan of the MLS as I only started getting into it during the second half of the 2018 season. I chose Minnesota United as my favorite club as they were not a contending club (only second year in the league at the time) but had the potential to become one over time.
The 2019 season was my first full season watching the MLS and with my ESPN+ subscription, I watched Minnesota work their way into fourth place in the Western Conference standings and debut Allianz Field. They had a solid squad with the backline anchored by former Seattle Sounder Osvaldo Alonso and Ike Opara, who won MLS Defender of the Year that season. Up front, it was nothing special but Darwin Quintero was a dependable option.
Minnesota played their first ever playoff match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, my roommate’s favorite club. To his delight, Minnesota winger Ethan Finlay blew nearly every good attack they had and the Galaxy ripped off two goals in four minutes in the second half to put away the Loons, winning 2-1.
This season, the club was faced with adversity as goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who they acquired from LAFC to replace 2019 loanee Vito Mannone, needed season-ending hip surgery in August. Dwayne St. Clair stepped up as goalkeeper and the club needed to replace Quintero, who left to join the Houston Dynamo in the offseason. As play resumed in August after the MLS is Back Tournament, Minnesota lost their first three matches, including a 3-0 demolition against the Dynamo.
Their fortunes changed on Sep. 1 as they acquired Boca Juniors midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. As Kevin Molino and Robin Lod stepped up the scoring load with Reynoso setting them up, Minnesota climbed up to the fourth seed once again for the playoffs. They faced the up-and-coming Colorado Rapids in the first round and this time, Minnesota won 3-0 off three assists from Reynoso. I was happy about this but the game I really them wanted to win was their second-round matchup against their bitter rivals in Sporting Kansas City. Once again, Reynoso was the playmaker as he dished out another three assists in the 3-0 win. I was overjoyed by this as Minnesota had finally arrived as a true contender and defeated their rivals in humiliating fashion.
Heading into the Western Conference Final, I was expecting a close loss against the defending MLS Cup Champions in the Seattle Sounders. I was hoping to be competitive and prove they belonged in this game. What happened next was not what I was expecting.
In this 29th minute, Reynoso wowed everyone with a missile of a free kick to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. They held this lead until the 67th minute when minutes after Sounders winger Jordan Morris banged a shot off the post, Reynoso found Bakaye Dibassy on a free kick to give Minnesota a stunning 2-0 lead at Seattle. I was elated but I knew with the Sounders’ deadly attack, it was far from over.
I was sadly right.
When Sounders’ striker Will Bruin subbed on in the 73rd minute, I said to myself he was gonna score and right on cue, he did two minutes later to cut the lead 2-1. As the minutes churned away, I grew more anxious as Seattle kept missing chance after chance. In the 89th minute, Raul Ruidiaz, the “playoff assassin,” scored the equalizer. I was devastated and was preparing for Seattle to score the stoppage time winner like they had done twice before against Minnesota (2017 and 2018). Well, my fears were soon realized as Gustav Svensson headed home the winner in the 93rd minute and Seattle advanced to the MLS Cup Final.
I was stunned. My “Blinded by Sports” co-host and Sounders superfan, Collin Fewkes, was ecstatic. It was a devastating defeat for an up-and-coming club. A week later and days after the Columbus Crew defeated the Sounders 3-0 to win the MLS Cup, I have to admit while it still hurts, I am a proud Minnesota United fan. They won their first two playoff matches and almost defeated the defending champions at their home. Adding Reynoso paid off as he was magical this postseason with a MLS Playoffs record of seven assists in only three matches and became the first player in MLS history to record back-to-back matches in the playoffs.
With Reynoso most likely returning to the squad next season, Reynoso could build off this postseason and win MLS MVP in 2021. His chemistry with the players is incredible and with his playmaking, I cannot wait to see what he does next season. As painful as this is for fans of the club such as myself, I’m anticipating seeing them play next season. Bright days are ahead for the club.