Home-field advantage for one match is good. Home-field advantage for two matches would be better.
Minnesota United hosts Real Salt Lake on Sunday in a key Western Conference clash, with the winner potentially claiming an inside track to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
The Loons (13-6-10) are one point behind RSL (14-4-11) and Seattle for second as part of a seven-team logjam separated by four points. The No. 2 spot carries home-field advantage for two knockout-round contests and also results in avoiding top-seeded and all-but-certain Supporters’ Shield holders Los Angeles FC until the conference final if the seeds hold form.
Minnesota United frittered away an excellent opportunity to begin that in-road for the second spot with a 2-1 loss at Houston on Wednesday night. The Loons conceded both goals in a seven-minute span late in the first half, and coach Adrian Heath was unsparing in criticizing his side for a lack of urgency with so much at stake – especially coming off a victory over LAFC.
“We were second best in every aspect of the game and it’s a short reminder that we still have to get better at the end of the game,” Heath said. “We have one of these 45 minutes still in us and we can’t carry on doing it.
“I played 500-600 league games. I know what it’s like where you just play like there is no pressure on you. The pressure starts from the first whistle and you have to be ready to play and tonight we weren’t and it’s another reminder that we’re not where we want to be and we’re not good enough.”
The Loons, though, have turned Allianz Field into a fortress in their first season there and carry a 10-match unbeaten streak there (8-2-0) in all competitions into this contest. They have lost just once in 17 games there overall (11-5-1) while outscoring opponents 35-13.
Real Salt Lake is looking for its sixth win in eight matches after defeating San Jose 1-0 on Wednesday night. Damir Kreilach’s goal in the 75th minute separated the sides, heading home a cross from Brooks Lennon following a scramble off a corner kick.
“He has a nose for the goal,” RSL assistant Tyrone Marshall said of Kreilach, who scored his 20th goal for the team since joining them last season. He has a big body and likes to get into the box which is why playing him at the 10 is really to our benefit a lot of time. He likes to get in for crosses. Especially with Brooks being in there.
“We get good crosses and services from Brooks, Douglas (Martinez) occupying the two centerbacks and Damir making the late run. He has done it before and having him in that position is definitely to our advantage.”
Striker Jefferson Savarino, who played for Venezuela in a Monday night friendly against Colombia in Tampa, flew back to Salt Lake City to be available and came off the bench for the final 26 minutes.
Nick Rimando made three saves for his 10th shutout and has recorded three clean sheets in his last five starts. Only two have come on the road, though, where RSL have just one win in their last seven contests (1-2-4) and have 12 points in 14 matches overall (3-3-8).
Minnesota has won a pair of high-scoring matches at home over RSL since joining MLS in 2017, including a 3-2 victory last year as Ibson, Darwin Quintero and Miguel Ibarra all scored in a 17-minute stretch of the second half before Joao Plato had a brace for Salt Lake in the final 13 minutes.
The teams played to a 1-1 draw July 20 at Rio Tinto Stadium as Quintero and Marcelo Silva traded second-half goals.
(Nick Rimando photo courtesy Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY Sports)