ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) During Minnesota United's first two years in MLS, the signs of progress were not exactly plentiful.
This breakout season for the Loons has brought many measures of success, none more marked than a pair of performances against league-leading Los Angeles FC.
Michael Boxall scored the tying goal with a no-look header in the 75th minute for Minnesota United, which took a 1-1 draw with Los Angeles FC on Sunday night but fell short of securing a home game for the first round of the playoffs.
Carlos Vela matched the MLS season goal record with 31, scoring in the 70th minute for LAFC (20-4-9) and tying the mark set last year by Atlanta United's Josef Martinez to quiet the latest sellout crowd of 19,000-plus fans at Allianz Field. Just five minutes later, after Jan Gregus sent a free kick flying over the defense, Boxall knocked it in with a leap that had his back turned to goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega for the defender's second goal of the season.
''They were the better team in the first half, and I thought in the second half we had the better chances,'' Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. ''They might have been isolated on the break, but they've got good players. They've spent a lot of money putting those attacking players together, so I can't be too disappointed with my group, certainly not.''
Minnesota United (15-10-8), which beat Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night to clinch a postseason spot in for the first time since joining the league as an expansion club in 2017, finished 10-1-6 at home in its first year at the futuristic, European-style stadium halfway between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Loons stayed in second place in the Western Conference, but they're now tied with Seattle with identical records and 53 points. They play at the Sounders on Oct. 6, the final day of the regular season with all 24 teams in action simultaneously. The Los Angeles Galaxy (16-14-3) are in third with 51 points, and Real Salt Lake (15-13-5) is in fourth with 50 points. LAFC has secured a bye, and the next three teams will host a first-round playoff game. The first tiebreaker is total wins, followed by goal differential, in which the Loons (plus-10) have a huge edge over the rest of their competitors for second, third and fourth place.
''You heard that crowd tonight,'' Boxall said. ''We'd love to have that energy in the playoffs as well.''
LAFC, which clinched the MLS Supporters' Shield trophy for the best regular-season record by beating Houston in its last match on Wednesday, is 12-1-3 at home. The only loss was 2-0 to the Loons on Sept. 1, when Vela was out with a hamstring injury. Vela has two more goals than Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the league lead, the race for the Golden Boot.
LAFC is just 1-1-5 in its last seven matches, but the club still has eight more points than Eastern Conference leader New York City FC behind a whopping plus-46 goal differential.
''We've got the players to win anywhere, as we've shown,'' Heath said. ''Nobody thought we could go to LAFC and win. We did.''