While the weather and the fans set the stage for a great game, the team on the field couldn’t match it in their home debut. The fans were loud even from before kickoff, celebrating with the team all the players, coaches, and other people who helped make this 41-year journey from the start of Minnesota professional soccer to today, the first home game for Minnesota’s MLS side.
Governor Mark Dayton even got in on the festivities, proclaiming March 12 “Soccer in Minnesota Day.”
“The fans didn’t deserve that.” Adrian Heath
Some might have thought that the snow would have given the Minnesota side an advantage, with several Scandinavian players on its roster possessing a familiarity with similar weather conditions.
Any hope of an advantage quickly disappeared three minutes into the match when some slipping and sliding by the Loons at midfield couldn’t stop an Atlanta attack. A quick pass by Almirón to a just-onside Martinez and all John Alvbåge could do was was flail at the wide-open shot. Three minutes into their home debut and Minnesota was down one.
Minnesota spent the next ten minutes struggling to maintain possession and so it was Atlanta which struck again; this time Almirón found a lane between Jérôme Thiesson Thiesson and Vadim Demidov on the right and rifled the ball into the upper 90 to put the visitors up by two.
Minnesota’s best look in the early going was in the 24th minute, when the Loons had a free kick 30 yards from goal. Mohammed Saeid’s free kick sailed long and was easily cleared by the Atlanta defensive line.
Atlanta scored its third goal of the match in the 27th minute with Martinez again splitting center backs Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov and then beating Alvbåge.
After the third Atlanta goal, the Loons appeared to refocus their efforts, and what had been two- or three-pass possessions turned into longer stretches with the ball. Minnesota finally found a way onto the scoreboard after Molino was upended in the 18-yard box and scored on the ensuing penalty kick. The goal breathed a bit of life into the side in gray, but an ill-timed official timeout to clear the playing field lines of snow allowed Atlanta a chance to regroup and ride out the first half up 3-1.
Neither team played particularly attractive soccer with the snow coming down around them, but Atlanta proved to be the team that was able to turn the mistakes of their opponents into real opportunities on goal.
Minnesota came out in the second half ready to try to close the score. A Loons goal early in the second half might have flipped the game, possibly giving Minnesota a chance to even the score in the tough conditions. After a couple early attempts on goal that ended in goal kicks, Minnesota’s aggressiveness cost them.
Johan Venegas lost the ball after an Atlanta player slid into him, but the ref waved play on and Minnesota never fully recovered during the ensuing counter attack. Hector Villalba’s shot was parried away by Demidov, but only to the top of the box where Almirón was waiting. His one-timer found the open side of the net to give Atlanta a shocking 4-1 lead.
Martínez completed his hat trick later in the half with a brilliant run behind Demidov, rounding Alvbåge, then slotting the ball across the goal line in collected fashion.
Alvbåge had a scary moment late in the match, when a laceration on his knee forced him out of the match and Bobby Shuttleworth came into finish the game. Even the change in keepers couldn’t keep Atlanta out of the back of the net. Late game substitute Peterson headed the ball in to give Atlanta six on the day and Minnesota with a minus-nine goal differential after two games.
And so we’re left with the question, what does Minnesota do from here? How does a team react to a cumulative 11-2 scoreline on the young season?
There was nothing to celebrate in the game, according to coach Heath. “They didn’t give any kind of performance that warranted the support they got today,” the gaffer said after the game. “Very disappointing, and I apologize for that.”
— FiftyFiveOne (@FiftyFiveOne) March 12, 2017
Minnesota United FC 1 – Atlanta United 6
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. (CST)
Weather: 28° Snow
Josef Martinez (3′, 27′, 75′)
Miguel Almirón (13′, 52′)
Kevin Molino (30′ PEN)
Jacob Peterson (90’+4)
Rasmus Schüller (Unsporting Behavior 19′)
Leandro González Pirez (Unsporting Behavior 34′)
Francisco Calvo (Unsporting Behavior 41′)
Héctor Villalba (Delaying the Restart of Play 48′)
Kevin Molino (Persistent Infringement 57′)