Loons lose first MLS playoff game

Emmanuel Keppel, Contributing Writer

As the final whistle blew on Minnesota United’s season last Sunday, several players including Major League Soccer (MLS) Defender of the Year Ike Opara collapsed to the ground, heartbroken by the 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy in the Loons’ first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs match. But within minutes, they were all lifted up by the cheers from the thousands of die hard Minnesota supporters in the Wonderwall, the supporters’ section behind the goal.

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone, one of the heroes of this Minnesota United team throughout the year, was even handed a supporter’s scarf at the end of the game as a gesture of thanks for his amazing performances throughout the season. The overwhelming sensation from the home fans was pride in the accomplishments of the club, not anger or disappointment in the Loons’ loss.

Despite the overall positive feelings from the supporters, it was undeniably a hard way for the season to end for Minnesota. The Loons controlled large portions of the game and missed several key chances in the first and early second halves, with defender Michael Boxall and striker Ángelo Rodriguez both coming close to scoring. Minnesota outshot LA 6-3 in the first half. A header from Boxall was the only shot on target from either side in that half. Minnesota also looked defensively dominant in the first half with Boxall and Opara combining to stop Zlatan Ibrahimović, one of the most dangerous attackers in the league, from having any good chances to score.

Throughout the first 70 minutes, the supporters’ section and stadium as a whole consistently roared their team on as they seemed closer and closer to opening the scoring. Then, after 70 minutes of unrelenting pressure and wild energy in the stadium, Sebastian Lletget sucked the energy out of Allianz Field by putting a rebound into the net just past the diving Mannone.

The home fans, who had not stopped singing since 10 minutes before kickoff, fell silent for the first time. The only audible noise was the raucous celebrations of the small group of fans who had traveled from Los Angeles. That silence didn’t last long, however, with the leaders of the supporters’ groups leading the crowd in new chants even before the LA players had stopped celebrating.

Yet, just four minutes later, it got even worse for Minnesota, as LA’s Jonathan Dos Santos curled a beautiful shot into the corner of the net from 20 yards out.

In spite of the two goals, the home fans continued to do everything they could to help their team come back, singing loudly, if not louder, than before. In the 87th minute, Minnesota gave them a reason to believe when Jan Gregus finished off a beautiful passing play with a low driving shot into the bottom corner of the goal. It was only the 2nd goal for the Slovakian midfielder since joining the club from FC Copenhagen last winter and for a moment, it seemed as though an incredible comeback might happen.

Ultimately, the late comeback bid wasn’t enough for Minnesota United, and the LA Galaxy held on for a 2-1 victory. This ended a remarkable season for the Loons. The team made the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS three years ago and have had one of the league’s best atmospheres since opening Allianz Field this April. Although it may be the end of the season, it feels like the beginning of the story for the club and its fans.

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