Right from kickoff it was clear: shorten the field and get in behind. The first part of that was marginally effective; the second part? Not at all. Within the first two minutes the Loons tried to dump the ball into a sprinting Abu Danladi or Darwin Quintero on three separate occasions and on three separate occasions the Atlanta backline mopped up accordingly. While the Loons defense was eventually opened up by a broken play, it was only one of several moments where Atlanta United forced a save from Vito Mannone.
Missing the dependable Romaine Metanaire due to yellow card accumulation, the Loons opted to start three centerbacks in Opara, Boxall, and Kallman. Ibarra and Dotson returned to their foreign wingback positions as the Loons wide depth was severely tested. The only other natural players available for the Loons tonight were Ethan Finlay and Eric Miller. On the road and against and in-form opponent, head coach Adrian Heath opted to stack the midfield with the three players and play two up top, hoping they could play off each other and allow the midfield to remain in place and locked down.
For a team hoping to play exclusively on the counter, having two misfiring forwards is never going to be a recipe for success. Quintero has been in a bit of a funk the last few weeks without a goal and wasted his one opportunity with an ill-advised chip that sailed peacefully over the crossbar. Danladi had slightly more success, but struggled to stay on his feet, and when he did, struggled to stay onside. The Loons’ best chance of the match came after both starting forwards were withdrawn and Angelo Rodriguez and Mason Toye were given a run out. A delicious cross in from right wingback Dotson nearly resulted in an own goal and the resulting corner fell to Rodriguez, Boxall, and Kallman in quick succession. The combination of the post and a flailing Brad Guzan kept the Loons from drawing level. Despite the ball hovering in and around the goal line for several seconds, referee Alex Chilowicz declined to check the monitor and since MLS does not employ goal line technology, the initial call stood.
If one bright spot can be gleaned from this match it is the emergence of Hassani Dotson as a reliable player for the Loons. Despite being asked to play outside of his normal central midfield position for the second match in a row, he acquitted himself well and should be a lock for an extended amount of minutes in the future. He had a few nervy moments when he got squared up against Dion Pereira, but when faced with the other Martinez, Gonzalo, not Josef, Dotson came away with the ball more often than not.
As the Loons pushed forward to try to get an equalizer(or second equalizer if you use goal line technology), they left themselves open at the back. A sloppy turnover and an unfortunate bounce off an Ozzie Alonso tackle saw the ball break to Josef Martinez to fire past Mannone and he doubled his tally deep into stoppage time to put gloss on what was an unostentatious win for Atlanta, but a listless loss for Minnesota.
The Loons return to the field this Sunday to take on the Philadelphia Union and will welcome back Metanaire to the lineup, and hopefully a little more attacking threat.