A friend of mine who watches soccer far more closely than I do and suffers the vicarious trauma of Minnesota sports to a greater degree than I do, watched with cautious optimism as Minnesota United built a 2-0 lead in the second half of its Western Conference finals match at Seattle on Monday.
The Loons were undoubtedly tired, playing on two fewer days of rest than the Sounders, with a travel day out West mixed in for good measure. But if they could just hold on, they would play Saturday for the MLS Cup.
“Long 25 minutes here,” he texted.
The next two texts: “Unreal” and “What did I tell you.”
A two-goal lead with less than 20 minutes to play is usually enough of a cushion for a soccer team — even a tired one in an underdog role.
But not for the Loons, who got an unfortunate indoctrination into what it really means to be a Minnesota sports team: Having just enough success to make the crash landing that much more painful.
Their 3-2 loss — with the final two goals coming near the end of 90 minutes and then in stoppage time — ended what had been, to that point, a remarkable playoff journey. The sting of defeat shouldn’t lessen their accomplishment in making it that far. Then again, fans in Minnesota have been trying to talk themselves into that sentiment, with one major exception, for the last three decades.
Of the six big-time professional sports leagues in our market — defined here as those that allow their athletes to at least make a living wage, often times far more than that — only the Lynx have managed to even get past the game or series to get to the game or series that determines the league championship.
In conference finals/league semifinals, the Lynx are 6-2 in the last decade (wins in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and losses in 2014 and 2020). They’ve heaped on four WNBA titles for a legacy that stands on its own.
Since 1991, when the Twins won the World Series, this is the tally for the other five teams when reaching the brink of playing for a championship: Twins (0-1, loss in 2002 ALCS); Wild (0-1, loss in 2003 Western Conference finals); Wolves (0-1, loss in 2004 Western Conference finals); Vikings (0-4, losses in 1998, 2000, 2009 and 2017 NFC title game); Minnesota United (0-1, loss in 2020 Western Conference finals).
That’s a combined 0-8, with every major men’s pro team contributing. For a more thorough list of all that has gone wrong since 1991, I will point you to this tweet.
The accompanying list of things that have gone right would be shorter, even if it was filled with remarkable individual moments — almost all of them in games before the stakes got really high.
For the most part, that’s Minnesota sports: not the stuff that dreams are made of, but the stuff that memes are made of.
You have to have an endless reserve of optimism or have a doctorate in the Law of Averages to believe the next 30 years will be any different. But I have a feeling that just like my friend referenced above, you’re going to keep watching all the same.
Because you never know, even if you do.