Tuesday night’s tilt had a bit of everything for MLS fans. World-class strikes, five yellow cards, a goalkeeper getting a red card, and a dramatic two-goal reversal at the end of the match. Minnesota was able to rally back from the dead thanks to timely goals from Christian Ramirez and Kevin Molino and by doing so they exacted revenge against an Atlanta squad that humiliated Minnesota in their home opener, 6-1, back in March.
Loons gaffer Adrian Heath decided to shake things up both tactically and personnel-wise as his squad lined up in a 4-1-2-3 formation with four lineup changes from the team’s defeat against the Dynamo on Saturday. The most notable substitutions were Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra, who made way to the bench in favor of rookie forward Abu Danladi and midfielder Collen Warner. Heath’s change of tactics was particularly noteworthy due to his repeated use of the 4-2-3-1 formation throughout Minnesota’s inaugural MLS campaign.
Minnesota United squared off against an Atlanta side that already clinched a playoff berth and had a few international call-ups decimate their depth. Josef Martinez, Jeff Larentowicz, Greg Garza, Brad Guzan and Anton Walkes were all left off the starting eleven for tonight’s game. Also worth noting —Adrian Heath’s son, Harrison Heath, was named to Atlanta’s matchday roster as a substitute but did not play.
Perhaps a bit on their back foot from the beginning, the Loons nearly conceded within the opening five minutes of the game. Atlanta midfielder, and Rookie of the Year candidate, Julian Gressel played a perfectly weighted ball into space which found Hector Villalba who was through on goal. Minnesota backstop Bobby Shuttleworth was alert and came off of his line and made a deft sliding save, which kept the scoreboard knotted at zero early. Shuttleworth was called again to make a big save just six minutes later where he denied a long-range volley from Villalba that looked destined to sneak into the back of the net.
Over the next twenty minutes, things started to get a bit chippy between both sides after a number of hard fouls were committed. Center back Brent Kallman perhaps got away with an elbow on an Atlanta player and Collin Martin found himself fortunate to get away with just a yellow card after he left his feet on a harsh tackle on Villalba that came a bit too late.
After a spirited first half, both United sides went into their lockerrooms with the game tied at 0-0. Despite lacking any credible attacking threat in the first half, the Loons did a good job of hunkering down on defense and getting players behind the ball. We’ve seen Adrian Heath opt to go for this sort of strategy against tougher opponents, and these particular tactics work well if you’re able to counter-attack properly, which the Minnesota was able to do in the first half despite their lack of shots.
After playing cat-and-mouse for the first 45 minutes, Minnesota United got off to a dream start to the second half. On the heels of a Julian Gressel turnover, the Loons launched a potent counter-attack in which Abu Danladi had the ball at his feet a distance away from Atlanta’s box. Danladi made a quick run and inside-outed an Atlanta defender before ripping a left-footed shot that went all the way across the goal and into the upper corner of the net to give Minnesota the lead. The strike was the Ghanian’s eighth of the year and his third in his last 120 minutes of play.
Danladi continued to wreak havoc against Atlanta from that point forward as he was able to latch onto the end of a through ball that put him one-on-one with ATLUTD keeper Kyle Reynish. Reynish came all the way out of his box to try and make a slide tackle but caught Danladi’s ankle.
After initially not calling anything, the referee employed the Video Assistant Referee who ruled it the play as a red card for Atlanta’s keeper, which left the home team with just 10 men after the foul. Danladi appeared to have been injured by the tackle and was subbed off immediately in favor of Christian Ramirez.
Despite being up a man, Minnesota United was unable to keep Atlanta off the scoreboard for very long. In the 67th minute, Julian Gressel’s cross into the box was headed away by a Minnesota defender but fell right to Tito Villalba. The Argentinian hit a perfectly-measured volley past Shuttleworth to tie the game at one apiece.
Things went from bad to worse just five minutes later as MNUFC surrendered the lead due to a fantastically well-executed attack from the home team. Yamil Asad played a diagonal ball to Julian Gressel who was able to get in behind Jermaine Taylor. Taylor’s marking was particularly uninspiring on the play as he allowed Atlanta to operate in acres of space out wide. Gressel made a quick fake which brought Taylor down to his knees, and with plenty of space, the German rookie hit a curling shot that Bobby Shuttleworth had no chance at stopping. Within the span of 15 minutes, Minnesota went from being up a goal and a man to trailing.
Just when it was looking like Minnesota United would walk away from their road tilt without a point, the Loons fought hard, didn’t give up, and found a way to get all three points. After winning a 90th-minute corner, the ensuing cross found the head of Collen Warner, who nodded it across the goal mouth to Sam Nicholson. Nicholson put a quick flick onto the ball which glanced off of the back of Christian Ramirez’s leg and in. MNUFC has not had much success from attacking corners this season, so go figure they’d equalize thanks to a late one tonight.
With just two minutes to go in stoppage time, Atlanta’s players looked particularly fatigued due to being down a man. Minnesota seized their opportunity to strike and took the lead late thanks to a Kevin Molino goal in stoppage time. In the 95th minute, Jerome Thiesson hit a well-timed cross into the box which found a streaking Molino who headed it emphatically into the far corner of the net, clinching the team’s third road victory of the year.
This game was an absolutely wild affair from the get-go, and kudos need to be given to Adrian Heath’s bunch who could have easily mailed it in after going down a goal with just 20 minutes left. The team never lost hope, rallied, and found a way to score twice within a seven-minute span. Given the fact that Minnesota was embarrassed in their MLS home opener by Atlanta, this dramatic comeback victory was just that much sweeter.
Next up for the Loons is their home finale against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. They have just three games remaining in their debut MLS campaign.