Minnesota United faced off against Atlanta United in the first ‘Expansion Derby’ between the two clubs. It was Minnesota’s MLS home debut, and they were looking to make it a memorable one. While it might have been memorable, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Right off the gate, Atlanta United was on the attack. Just three minutes in, Miguel Almirón played Josef Martinez through and just like that, it was 1-0. The cold was a huge talking point coming into this game, but it didn’t seem to faze the visitors. Ten minutes later, in the 13th minute, Miguel Almirón found the back of the net, as he went free into the box and slotted it up and in on goalkeeper John Alvbage. It took some time, but after the first two goals, the Loons started to wake up and muster up some sort of attack. Christian Ramirez had one of the better chances in the first half in the 18th minute having the ball with a 3 on 2 breakaway, but ATL’s Michael Parkhurst got back and blocked Ramirez’s attempt with a sliding challenge. In the 27th minute, Atlanta was at it again, with Josef Martinez scoring his second of the day off a quick counter attack.
After the kick-off, the Loons went on the hunt to get back into the game, and it looked like they were on their way when Collen Warner got taken down in the box and Kevin Molino put the penalty away for the first home goal in Minnesota’s MLS history!
Finally, a break. But the Loons were looking for more, and kept on the attack. Minutes later Johan Venegas went down in the box after being shoulder checked, but didn’t get a call from the ref. In the 40th minute Venegas, Molino, and Ramirez were all very close to making the game 3-2. The best chance of the half came right at the end of the half, as Minnesota had a flurry of chances to get a second goal including a shot that went off the bar. Nothing came of it though, but the Loons looked very strong near the end, and it provided hope of a comeback going into halftime.
Halftime Thoughts: As poor as a 3-1 scoreline shows, I don’t think we played that poor of a brand of football. It sucks that it took two goals for our boys to wake up, the end of the half is really promising. You can sense that we are just that close to bagging in another goal, maybe even two. I saw a couple good crosses from Jerome Thiesson, who is making his debut today, so if he can keep those up someone has to be on the end of those and maybe one of those crosses will end up in a goal. We’ve actually outshot Atlanta 13-4, so if we keep firing away we’ll be back in it. Our defense is just going to have to step up (duh) and I think we can make this game interesting again
Unfortunately, that “momentum” the Loons had frozen away during halftime. Miguel Almirón got his second goal of the game in the 52nd minute thanks in part to Alvbage being out of position. Minnesota had a chance to answer almost immediately after when they got a free kick at the edge of Atlanta’s box, but Venegas hit it too hard and his effort went over the bar. After a bit of a lull in the game, play was stopped in the 67th minute after a Vadim Demidov clearance for a snow removal break. Say what you want about the team, but MNUFC hired some A+ snow blowers. The first sub for Minnesota came in the 71st minute, as Adrian Heath brought on Bashkim Kadrii to replace Rasmus Schüller. After a break without a goal, Atlanta had enough waiting around and Josef Martinez broke loose to score his third of the game to make it 5-1 Atlanta in the 75th. Atlanta was all over Minnesota, and in the 84th minute almost had another goal but Alvbage sacrificed his own body to block Héctor Villalba, getting hurt in the process. Bobby Shuttlesworth came on in replacement to see the game out. Five minutes of stoppage time were added on, and Atlanta took that time to add one more home. After receiving zero resistance to get into the Loons own 18, Greg Garza crossed the ball to Jacob Petersen who headed the ball in with no opposition. The final whistle blew, and the match came to a close.
To be frank, there aren’t a lot of positives in this one. Clearly, our defense needs some work, so the news that Juventus castaway left back Paulo De Ceglie wants in to this team is brings music to my ears. You can also look at the attack this team has. Even if it did account for nothing, Minnesota clearly proved that they aren’t afraid to shoot, besting Atlanta in that regard 17-10. You’d have to hope that as the season progresses, that ‘total shot’ number will be kind to our ‘goals’ column. The season is still young, and the team will gel together as the season progresses. The Loons travel to Colorado next to face a Rapids team that is not as much as an offensive workhorse as Portland and Atlanta were, so it’s a real test to see how this teams inaugural season plays out.