Minnesota United's 3-0 victory over top-seeded Sporting Kansas City in a Western Conference semifinal Thursday means the Loons now get only three full days' preparation before Monday's conference final.
"Thursday Night Football" postponed the Dallas-Baltimore game, which moved the Loons-Sporting KC game in Kansas City from Wednesday to Thursday to fill a hole in Fox national prime-time programming after the NFL moved its game to next week because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"Just one more thing this season," Loons coach Adrian Heath said.
So what else in a season suspended four months by a pandemic, restarted twice in summer, training canceled or curtailed often and games called off on mere hours' notice?
"You look at this entire year, you've had to adapt and adjust," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said.
Seattle's 1-0 home victory over FC Dallas on Tuesday in the other Western semifinal allows them five days' rest and regeneration by Monday. Minnesota United gets only three before a West final originally scheduled for Sunday.
"It's definitely not competitive parity, that's for sure," Vermes said in advance of Thursday's game. "But I'd say none of this year has been. I don't know what to tell you other than I'm not really worried about the next game. We've got to get through this game [Thursday] before we get to anything else. That's our obstacle."
MLS officials decided Fox's prime-time, national-broadcast exposure outweighed the drawbacks.
"We're trying to grow this game," Vermes said. "We're part of the entertainment business. This is a great opportunity to broaden our reach to different spectators out there. The opportunity to play in a prime-time spot on a prime-time network is huge."
What's in a rivalry?
Minnesota United's "rivalry" with Sporting Kansas City has received some mention on the internet as the friendliest one in sports, maybe because only a playoff history makes a real one.
"Some rivalries are created a whole different way," Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza said. "They came to the league not too long ago. They're a very competitive team and so are we. We have come very close in every single game we had to play. They're great guys. They're a great team. I like playing against them and vice versa. … It's good there's no bad beef between the teams and we go to play soccer and nothing else."
Maybe he forgot his team has outscored the Loons 15-1 in the six games played in Kansas City.
No place like home
Sporting Kansas City has allowed fans to occupy 18% of Children's Mercy Park's occupancy during the pandemic, or about 3,300 who attended Thursday's game. Minnesota United has not allowed fans all season.
"You'd always rather be at home, there's no doubt," Vermes said. "I always think it's different when you have fans in a full stadium. We'd obviously have a full stadium if we were allowed full capacity. That makes it a little different for a team when they come and play you. Don't get me wrong: The fans we'll have at our games will be incredibly [helpful] to the players' motivation for sure, but I can't lie to you and say it's not different when we have a full stadium."
• Loons play-by-play announcer Callum Williams missed working on radio what he called the biggest game in the club's MLS history because he was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He tweeted neither he nor his wife have symptoms and both have tested negative twice. He must quarantine for 14 days before being allowed to return to Allianz Field. "I understand and respect this decision," he wrote.