It feels like we’ve been here before. Actually, we have.
Minnesota United will host fellow expansion club Atlanta United on Saturday evening, just over a year since the two teams met in the iconically frozen “Snowpener.”
To help get an idea of what Atlanta has been up to, we spoke to Haris Kruskic of Dirty South Soccer.
How is Atlanta United going to build on a strong inaugural season?
By being much more fluid from a formational standpoint. We’ll see Tata Martino switch often from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 and back. It also helps that our scheduling isn’t a mess to end the season like it was last campaign.
A couple different superbooks in Las Vegas give us the second best odds to win the Cup. Honestly, I really don’t think that’s out of the question. Toronto FC should still be a favorite and the Eastern Conference looks really good this year with NYCFC and the New York. Red Bulls making quality additions to their clubs.
Considering the amount of money Atlanta spent on transfers(a reported $15 million on Ezequiel Barco and $1.5 million on Darlington Nagbe), I would say anything short of a trip to the conference finals would be a disappointment. However, if Atlanta can stay healthy and add one or two more quality depth players, I like our odds to make a run for the Cup.
What’s the Atlanta fan base’s perception of their fellow expansion club?
Honestly, I do think the Atlanta fanbase sees Minnesota as a little brother. The idea is that Atlanta wasted no time in attempting to be the best in MLS and Minnesota is happy with waiting a few years before making that stride. I guess there’s been a lack of ambition from MNUFC up to this point and that has AU supporters with their chests puffed out.
What on Earth is a “Five Stripe”?
It’s kind of like a Loon except it doesn’t concede six goals in the snow. Aah, banter.
In all seriousness though, I hate when Five Stripe is used in a singular context. It makes no sense at all.
Incorrect: “He’s a Five Stripe.” Burn it. Burn it alive.
Correct: Referring to the club as “The Five Stripes” or saying “He dons the Five Stripes.”
Minnesota United will be looking to pick up their third win of the season on Saturday in their third home game. The Loons are coming off of a disappointing 3-0 loss to RBNY last weekend. “The players know my thoughts on last week’s performance,” says manager Adrian Heath. “For the first time this year, we let ourselves down.”
But the players’ “response has been good,” according to the gaffer. Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica), Michael Boxall (New Zealand), and Rasmus Schuller (Finland) are all back from international duty, while Tyrone Mears is back in training from a calf injury.
“I got through [three] days of training this week,” he says. “I should be okay.”
Heath says that fullback Jerome Thiesson will be a game-time decision.
Mears will be facing his former team on Saturday, but he isn’t too worked up about it. “It’s nice,” he explains. “Lot of good friends there, it will be nice to see the coach as well. And a tough test for us, they’re obviously a very good team and they’ll be coming here to win the game.”
Mears’s experience with the Five Stripes last year gave him a complete awareness of Atlanta’s attacking threat and the media attention that accompanied it. “They love Atlanta, everything’s about Atlanta.”
Heath remembers the devastation that Atlanta’s attack can bring, especially when left unchecked. “You don’t spend 35, 40 million on attacking players to not be a threat. We’ve got to be ready and if we are, I think we can cause some problems,” he says.
One of the main threats comes from Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez, who is averaging a goal per game in MLS. “If he has a moment where you turn off your concentration, you’re watching the game and not worried about where the next ball is, he’s going to be in behind you.”
But it’s not just Martinez. “They’re probably the most dynamic in the league. [Miguel] Almiron can run the ball 70 yards down the field, running past people. [Hector] Villalba is probably one of the quickest in the league.”
There is still hope for a Loons victory, though. Heath is applying lessons from Minnesota’s 3-2 win away to Atlanta near the end of the 2017 season. The only thing he’s taken away from last year’s 6-1 defeat? “I learned that if we play like we did we’ll probably get beaten by five again.”
Spoiler alert: it’s going to be cold on Saturday night. It’s no sweat though.
Heath doesn’t expect it to affect his tactics at all. “If we have to change the team because it’s cold, then we have a problem.”
The weather won’t pose a problem for fullback Marc Burch, who will likely be in the lineup should Thiesson be ruled out. “It doesn’t really matter, once you get out there,” he says. “The only times that you really feel the cold are when you first come out and then after halftime when you’ve sweated all in the first half.”
Centerback Brent Kallman is a Minnesota native, but he doesn’t have too many strategies to help his teammates stay toasty. “We haven’t even been able to really train outside, so guys are just going to have to deal with it. At least the guys who were here last year have a little experience with that.”
Mears experienced the Snowpener last year, albeit with a red and black uniform. “I’ve never been so cold in my life. Hopefully there’s no snow and it’s just cold.”