The worst part for Minnesota United in advancing to the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 22, is where the Loons have to go next.
It’s Children’s Mercy Park, home of Sporting Kansas City. Its nickname — “Blue Hell” — is fitting because the Loons have seen it as a inferno for what seems like an eternity.
The Loons are 0-5-0 in MLS games in Kansas, and Minnesota’s goal differential is minus-10.
Adding two away appearances in the U.S. Open Cup, United’s record falls to 0-7 there and the goal differential plummets to minus-16. And the 2014 tournament match there left then-coach Manny Lagos fuming over a red card that turned a scoreless game into 2-0 defeat.
Current coach Adrian Heath brought up part of that past unprovoked after Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Colorado Rapids in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at Allianz Field.
“We have been at best awful at times there, so we are going to have to play a lot better than we’ve done in the past to get a result there,” Heath said.
The fourth-seeded Loons will play top-seeded Sporting a week from Tuesday or Wednesday. Schedule details have yet to be announced.
The Loons can take some solace that they’ve done better against K.C. elsewhere. They are 2-1-2 in Minnesota, and in the MLS is Back Tournament in July in Orlando, Fla., the Loons benefited from two late goals in stoppage time — a Sporting own goal and one from Kevin Molino — to win 2-1 in the group-stage opener.
The running joke from United is that they play K.C. in what seems to be every other game. Loons center back Michael Boxall is in on it. “We are playing a team that we aren’t too familiar with this weekend,” Boxall deadpanned.
Sporting had its hands full with No. 8 seed San Jose Earthquakes in Sunday’s playoffs opener, winning in penalty kicks after they were still tied 3-3 after a 30-minute added extra time session.
K.C.’s star striker Alan Pulido missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury; he has missed 10 of the team’s past 14 games. But when he has been in the lineup, he’s a difference maker with 11 combined goals and assists in 12 games this year.
The Loons welcomed back Ozzie Alonso off the bench Sunday. Their captain defensive midfielder has had his own injury setbacks this season, but the veteran won’t quiver in any sort of hell-scape to the South. Unlike Minnesota, Kansas allowed some fans in the stands during the pandemic.
“We are pleased to get (Alonso) back, obviously, because we know what he gives us,” Heath said. “Not only the ability, but the leadership. … I think he’s trained three or four days this week, and he’s gradually, incrementally upped his work.”
The week-plus build-up until the next game will give Alonso, Pulido and others time tor recover and rehab.
“We’ve got a bit of time to prepare for the big one,” Boxall said. “I think there is no reason why we’re not looking to win that one, too.”