Having entered MLS as expansion teams in the same year (2017), the two clubs have been in competition from the get-go. It began with the first-ever MLS home game for Minnesota, a game played in a blizzard that went the way of Atlanta to the tune of a 6-1 scoreline.
Later that season, as Atlanta settled into cavernous Mercedes Benz Stadium, Minnesota ran out 3-2 winners on enemy turf through a last-gasp victory.
Because it wouldn’t be an inter-United matchup in Minnesota without cold temperatures, the two teams met early in the season last year. Despite going down to ten men early, Atlanta found one goal and bunkered for the remaining hour, leaving the Loons to fruitlessly cross the ball into the box over and over and over again.
Despite the relative parity between the two clubs in matches, they’ve had vastly different season-long performances. While Minnesota struggled defensively over the past two years, Atlanta enjoyed winning an MLS Cup last December while repeatedly setting and breaking attendance records.
The cash flows freely in the Peach State, something that is obvious from Atlanta’s star-studded attack. Ignore the offseason departure of Miguel Almiron to Newcastle, and instead focus on Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel. “They’ve got really good attacking pieces and we know we’re going to have to a really good defensive shape in and everybody buying to what we’re doing,” said Minnesota manager Adrian Heath of his plan to handle Atlanta’s offense.
Things haven’t been all peachy for Atlanta so far this season, though. There was some lag at the start of the season — in some capacity likely due to the arrival of new coach Frank de Boer — but the southernmost United pieced together five consecutive clean sheets between late April and mid May.
The match will obviously pose a challenge for the Loons, who are coming off of two consecutive 1-0 wins over solid sides. Those games were played in the friendly confines of Allianz Field — a far cry from the atmosphere they’ll see on Wednesday.
Here are three things to watch for in the battle of Uniteds:
A red card
This seems like an oddly specific occurrence to expect from a game, but there’s precedent: somebody’s been sent off in each of the last two matchups. If things get a little chippy, which they might, we might see that streak extend to three.
Joseph Dickerson will be the referee for the game. In ten games, he’s given out one red card. In the two times he’s officiated one of Minnesota’s matches, he’s handed out one yellow card to the Loons; he’s given Atlanta two cautions in one game.
Hassani Dotson as a right back
Minnesota rookie Hassani Dotson showed some of his versatility last week when he logged a couple shifts at left back. With standout right back Romain Metanire missing this game due to yellow card accumulation, the plan is for Dotson to slide over to the right.
Darwin Quintero has been slumping, to say the least. With just one goal from open play on the season and none in well over 400 minutes. He nailed the crossbar against Houston on Saturday and has had a couple of goals called back from offside, but he’s demonstrated an over-eagerness to shoot from unrealistic distances, even for a player of his ability.
The Loons’ defense has been able to cover for the offense over the latest successful stretch of games, but that strategy may not be feasible against Atlanta. A big performance from Quintero could do wonders in making a positive result happen...
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth (knee), fullbacks Chase Gasper (leg) and Carter Manley (leg), and attacking midfielder Kevin Molino (leg) are all out for the Loons. Fullback Romain Metanire (yellow card accumulation) is suspended.
Defender George Bello (right abductor), forward Brandon Vazquez (knee) and forward Hector Villalba (knee) are all out for Atlanta.
Start Time: 6:00p CT (7:00p local)
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: Fox Sports North +
Radio: SKOR North (AM 1500)