Atlanta United managed to escape with a gutsy 1-0 victory over Minnesota on a bitterly cold evening in game that tilted heavily towards the home side. In spite of playing for most of the game up a man, Minnesota was unable to crack open a determined Atlanta side.
The Loons outshot their opponent 13 to 5, and maintained 70% of the possession, but failed again and again to connect on crosses or find the key pass that could unlock an organized defense. Atlanta, for their part, did not have much of a chance to show off their pricey attacking talent; the five stripes tallied a fluky own goal off a corner kick in the third minute, then were forced to defend for their lives after defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez earned a second yellow in late in the first half. Atlanta failed to tally a shot on goal after the ejection.
Head coach Adrian Heath may not have been pleased with the outcome, but was complimentary of his side in the losing effort. “I’m pleased with my players. I thought we made a really bad mistake in the first minute, and after that we were the better team.”
Although the weather – the wind chill dipped to around 10 degrees as the game got underway – might have brought back memories of Minnesota’s infamous 6-1 shellacking at the hands of their expansion cousins, from the get go it was clear that this would be a different contest. Minnesota set the table early for its possession dominance when Ethan Finlay flashed a dangerous pass in towards the box for Sam Nicholson, who had managed to sneak behind Gonzalez Pirez. Gonzalez Pirez brought Nicholson down in desperation and earned a yellow card for his efforts. On the other end, however, Atlanta earned a corner kick that was flicked on at the near post. Lampson stabbed away the initial shot, but it glanced to Hector Villalba, whose header hit the crossbar then plunked off Francisco Calvo’s thigh and into the net.
After the game’s only goal, Atlanta threatened to break the game open with a couple of lethal counterattacks, but Lampson proved up to the task. The game had already begun to tilt in the Loons favor before Gonzalez Pirez was sent off.
The second half belonged to Minnesota, who possessed the ball every which way but could not solve the riddle. Minnesota’s attacking efforts seemed to come to a head around the 80th minute, when Calvo had two shots that went just wide of the post, and Nicholson forced a save by Brad Guzan, who managed to corral the rebound just in time. Atlanta remained compact enough to allow very few penetrating passes, and were happy to try their luck at winning the aerial duels in the box. The Loons sent a staggering 45 crosses into the danger zone, but very few resulted in shots on target. “We probably could have put a better quality in the box late, could have been on the move a little bit more,” said Heath. “But overall I’m absolutely delighted with my players. I feel for them tonight, because they did not deserve to come out of the game with nothing.”
In the locker room, the players sounded frustrated but philosophical about the loss. “They don’t deserve the win,” said Calvo. “It’s the kind of game where you play, play, and you try, try and then the ball doesn’t go in.”
“Unfortunately, the bounces didn’t go our way this evening,” said Finlay. “I don’t know if we did enough to earn three points, but I think we deserved a point out of it. It’s tough to break down a team when they start to sit back like that.”