Monday, I tweeted a note about the Loons, and specifically about coach Adrian Heath. He’s one of four coaches in MLS that have coached the last three full seasons and made the playoffs in each one, along with Brian Schmetzer (Seattle), Gio Savarese (Portland), and Jim Curtin (Philadelphia). I’ll add here, in this unlimited space, that the Loons are one of only seven MLS teams to make the playoffs in all three of those seasons; the others are NYCFC, the New York Red Bulls, and the New England Revolution.
Many people on Twitter were quick to point out that Heath, alone among that quartet, still has an empty trophy case. Curtin won the 2020 Supporters’ Shield, Schmetzer won MLS Cup in 2016 and 2019 (and made the title game two other times), and Savarese won the MLS is Back tournament last year with Portland.
Heath, meanwhile, has only a handful of near and semi-near misses, losing the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final, and reaching the MLS is Back semifinals and last season’s Western Conference Final.
It’s inarguable. The Loons are not Seattle, not even close; even if you take the Sounders’ annoying consistency out of the equation, the Loons are a step below several other teams. Philadelphia has finished in the top three in three consecutive seasons, all while developing young players at a rate that’s perhaps matched only by FC Dallas. Sporting Kansas City missed the playoffs in 2019, but has otherwise qualified every year since 2011, and has earned two MLS Cups and four U.S. Open Cups over a quarter-century. Even among recent expansion teams, Atlanta United and LAFC have already earned trophies.
Just making the playoffs isn’t the whole story, either. The Loons have finished seventh, ninth, and 11th in the overall standings in the past three seasons. They haven’t yet qualified for either the CONCACAF Champions League or the Leagues Cup. They have won two playoff games all-time. And mentioning stats about the last three years ignores the previous two abysmal years.
The Loons are fine, even good, but haven’t yet been great. For Minnesota sports fans, it’s a familiar look. The Vikings, under Dennis Green, reached the playoffs eight times in ten seasons, but made zero Super Bowls. Ron Gardenhire had six playoff appearances in 13 years with the Twins, and won one playoff series. Mike Yeo made the playoffs three times in four seasons with the Wild, winning two playoff rounds, and got canned halfway through his fifth year.
All of this is very frustrating. And then, way down at the bottom of the abyss, is another option: the Timberwolves.
Monday night, the Timberwolves played in Memphis, their ninth game of the season. They lost, 125-118 in overtime. It was their sixth loss, and their fifth in a row.
The Wolves led by 13 points with 4:45 to play in the game, but - hauntingly, inevitably - face-planted. Memphis went on a 20-4 run, and the Wolves needed a 40-foot banked-in prayer from Karl-Anthony Towns at the buzzer merely to push the game to overtime. Of course, in overtime, they immediately resumed their plummet into the pit of despair, and lost by seven.
This is not even that notable, for the Timberwolves. Longtime Wolves fans know that no fourth-quarter lead is ever completely safe. Longtime Wolves fans know that you can change the players, the coaches, even the owners, and Minnesota will still lose.
The Wolves have an all-time winning percentage of .393. This is the worst winning percentage of any MLB, NFL, WNBA, or NBA team (we’re throwing out the NHL here, since the loser point skews the calculations, but they’d be on the bottom there too).
When you include MLS teams, the Timberwolves start to have some company. Using this table from worldfootball.net, and doing some NFL-style winning percentage calculations to compare this, there are three recent expansion teams who have been Wolves-level futile: Inter Miami (.397, 2 seasons) Austin FC (.324, 1 season) and FC Cincinnati (.253, 3 seasons).
If this had been written after two Minnesota United seasons, the Loons would have been right down there with them, at .375. Even worse than the Timberwolves. Even worse than Inter Miami. That’s bad.
Over the last three seasons, though, the Loons are at .556. That’d be top five all time in league history.
Put those five seasons, they’re at .478. That’s good for 18th in league history, right between D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
There are many, many numbers in this blog, and for good reason: you can draw just about any conclusion that you like from these numbers. As for me, I think it’s reasonable to judge Adrian Heath on his overall five-season record and not just the past three years, but I think it’s also important to note that - according to reports - Heath has increasingly been given more control over roster-building as well as on-field coaching, and that this has coincided with an upturn in the team’s fortunes.
More than anything, though, I’m currently considering whether I need to stop watching the Timberwolves, not as a lifestyle choice but simply to preserve my own mental health. I have to imagine that there are FC Cincinnati fans doing the same after another futile year. I’m heading into next baseball season knowing that the Twins will go at least 18 years without a playoff win; I’m resigned knowing that next Sunday is the next step towards another failed Vikings season.
Yes, the Loons haven’t lifted an MLS trophy yet. But as we get ready for the playoffs, I can’t help but think about how it could be so, so much worse.