Loons win 2-1 in Atlanta on May the 4th

The greatest teacher, failure is.

The last time the 2017 MLS expansion rivals met was August 27, 2019 in the U.S. Open Cup final. Four current Minnesota United FC players made that trip south to face Atlanta United FC. Michael Boxall and Hassani Dotson started and played the full 90. Robin Lod scored the Loons only goal, not counting Chase Gasper’s own goal. Dayne St. Clair was on the bench behind starter Vito Mannone, but he remembers.

“For me and couple of the other guys, we remember that 2019 [U.S.] Open Cup loss in the final. I think we’ll have that in the back of our mind there as well.” — Dayne St. Clair

On Friday, Ramsay said that the past history with Atlanta United like the 2017 first home match and the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final “comes up through conversations naturally that I’ll have with people from a wider club perspective.” However, the head coach shifted focus to the Atlanta United of the present: “The analysts typically will focus on head coaches, his record, association with the club, the club sort of general trajectory, which is always interesting to know.”

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.

On Tuesday, Minnesota United FC head coach Eric Ramsay said of past successes, “A big message will be ‘That [win at Charlotte FC] counts for nothing. Saturday [win against Sporting Kansas City] counts for nothing.’ We are starting from scratch again against a really good team over there.”

Regardless of history retained or forgotten, Eric Ramsay and the Loons won on Saturday 2-1 at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. It was the Loons third win in a row.

General Solo, is your strike team assembled?

MNUFC Starting XI at Atlanta United Forwards: Oluwaseyi, Sang Bin Midfield: Rosales, Trapp, Lod Backs: Padelford, Tapias, Boxall, Arriaga, Taylor GK: St. Clair" Bench: Smir, Pukki, Fragapane, Clark, Hlongwane, Bran, Harvey, Valentin
Graphic courtesy of MNUFC on X

Similar to last week, Eric Ramsay started in a 5-3-2 but with several key changes. Miguel Tapias came back from injury as substitute against SKC, but this was first start since March 24 against LAFC. The return of Tapias allowed Devin Padelford to slide left to left fullback and Joseph Rosales to move up to left midfielder.

“The necessity to beat that team is heightened by the fact that in [Thiago] Almada, they’ve [Atlanta United] got a player they can use in any space that they give him. We had a very specific plan as to how we would deal with that… That partly fed into how we selected the eleven to start the game. We’re also very conscious as to how it’s no secret they play a load of chances on their right hand side, very fluid. That weighed into how we picked the team and who played where.” — Eric Ramsay

Back from the AFC U23 Asian Cup in Qatar, Sang Bin Jeong made his first start since April 14. While the Loons were a 5-3-2 on paper, they were frequently a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 in attack as the fullbacks and front five played with positional flexibility. On defense, Ramsey took cues from his half-time adjustments against SKC. He had Sang Bin drop to facilitate a 5-4-1 defensive block when the club was without the ball.

“I liked it [the lineup] and am optimistic about the flexibility that Ramsey is showing, even within a given match,” fan Jeanne Antonich told NSJ on Sunday. “There were times last night that we looked flat, and the subs didn’t have quite the impact that they’ve had in earlier matches, but I’m all for trying new approaches!”

Atlanta United Starting XI vs. MNUFC 1 Guzan (captain) 11 Lennon 24 Cobb 4 Abram 26 Wiley 6 Slisz 8 Muyumba 10 Almada 20 Mosquera 9 Saba 7 Giakoumakis Reserves: Firmino, Fortune, Gregersen, Hernández, McCarty, Morales, Ríos, Wolff, Westberg
Graphic courtesy of Atlanta United FC on X

Coach Gonzalo Pineda lined up the Five Stripes in their usual 4-2-3-1. Goalkeeper and captain Brad Guzan was the only starter left from that 2019 U.S. Open Cup championship squad.

Atlanta’s fullbacks, Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon, like to join the attack. Wiley has scored a goal this season; Lennon had 4 assists and 24 key passes. Ramsay forewarned, “[Atlanta] have a couple of unique threats in the team moves in a very fluid way. You’ll see players pop up in in quite unconventional positions, definitely their right back [Lennon] would be one to watch in that sense.”

As good as Atlanta’s attacking defenders are, their attacking attackers are possibly more noteworthy. Striker Giorgos Giakoumakis came into this game with 5 goals and 2 assists and winger Saba Lobjanidze had 1 goal and 3 assists. Creative midfielder Thiago Almada had 2 goals, 1 assist, which seems meager, but he also had 23 key passes.

“It’s been the same with the large majority of teams we play where you look at the front players and … there is a relative big difference between the level of quality, the transfer fees that’s spent on that part of the pitch relative to the rest.” — Eric Ramsay

Here Goes Nothing

Despite attacking threats from both teams, the scoreline was a whole lot of nothing early in the match.

  • While Robin Lod got an early shot off for the Loons, Brad Guzan tipped it over the crossbar..
  • In the 32nd minute, Almada fed a ball to Lobjanidze but the Georgian winger was offside.
  • Tani Oluwaseyi benefited from a Abram and Guzan collision, but his shot hit Guzan’s mitts.

The most dangerous chance came in the 37th minute when Atlanta switched the pitch over the right side where Edwin Mosquera laid the ball back to Almada. The Argentinian attacker sent a curling low cross around the Loons back line to an oncoming Giakoumakis. The striker used his head to bounce the ball off the Benz turf, which required a leaping save from Dayne St. Clair.

Ramsay spoke of the importance of a goalkeeper stepping up big away from home: “We’re always going to need, particularly when it comes to places like this, our goalkeeper to make big saves. And he made a couple of really big ones. He’s a relentless presence, big voice, big personality, and you need to show big personality when you come to a place like this. He really played this well.”

At the end of the first half, the scoreline was nothing to nothing.

He’s no good to me dead.

Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod (17) dribbles the ball during the match against Sporting KC at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 27, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

At half time, Minnesota subbed on Carlos Harvey for Robin Lod. Coach Ramsay explained, “A slight niggle, we wanted to be really cautious with Robin [Lod]. Obviously, he’s a really important player, and we didn’t want to put him in a position where seemingly something fairly minor, which it was in the second half.” He ended with, “We’re hoping it’s not too serious.”

This one, a long time have I watched. All his set pieces have been kicked to the future, the horizon. Never his mind on where was, hmm? what he was doing.

Off a badly defended throw-in, Sang Bin almost got the Loons on the board early in the second half. Atlanta headed the ball away, but the ball landed right at the Korean’s feet. His shot required a quick reaction from Guzan to push the ball over the net.

On the ensuing corner kick, Joseph Rosales sent in an outswinger that found the tall head of fellow Honduran Kervin Arriaga. Arriaga scored and celebrated by sucking his thumb. (On Wednesday, Arriaga and his wife celebrated the birth of their second son.) In the 53rd minute, the visitors were up 1-0.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, one of Eric Ramsay’s duties as an assistant was to work on set pieces. While the coach might be part of the reason for the Loons’ sudden improvement in that category, Ramsay made sure to credit the players too: “We obviously do a solid amount of work around those situations. There’s a reasonable level of detail to each of the goals we scored [on set pieces], but I will say, you can’t look past a very good delivery and a real intent to score. We’ve got that across a couple of players in both of those components in those situations.”

He continued by emphasizing the importance of set pieces when the Loons lack chances from the run-of-play: “We will be a team, I’m sure, that will create a lot of chaos in those situations and take it when you come to places like this when you know you are going to be on the back foot in terms of volume in possession that you have. You need to make sure in those moments you can really make it count.”

Despite Minnesota’s past performance regarding corner kicks, the Loons have scored off corners in the three consecutive games. Michael Boxall scored early off a Rosales corner (and Lod flick) against SKC. Hassani Dotson headed a Lod corner at Charlotte.

Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda remembered the goal in this manner: “Certain moments, we were just half asleep. Again, from throw-in, that’s a very simple check-in [Sang Bin] going behind, and they get in kind of in our primacy zone. From there we gave away a corner kick. And then set pieces: we should be more dominant in that. They put a lot of thought in that. They have scored like three [or] four [set piece] goals since the new coach arrived.”

Great shot, kid! That was 5 in 16!

Minnesota United forward Tani Oluwaseyi (14) celebrates in front of the Wonderwall after defeating Sporting KC by a score of 2-1 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 27, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Fewer than ten minutes later, Harvey read Caleb Wiley’s centering pass and hustle-stepped in front of the intended target, Tristan Muyumba. Harvey poked the ball away from Muyumba to Tani Oluwaseyi, who doubled the Loons’ lead.

Oluwaseyi has now scored five goals in 2024 with ten shots on target and 16 total shots. His first two goals came from late-in-game substitutions, but in three recent starts, he has scored three goals, one in each match.

Ramsay commented, “Carlos [Harvey] is very strong; he’s imposing. In situations like that, he’s a really useful introduction and won a lot of second balls for us, and he’s very strong one-on-one when he’s carrying balls. I think it was a nice change that he obviously added, so another step forward in that sense.”

You underestimate the power of the Dark Side.

After Atlanta subbed on Tyler Wolff and Daniel Ríos, both were involved in a counter attack. Wolff passed over to Ríos, but Ríos’ shot lacked power and was picked up by St. Clair.

In the 82nd minute, Ríos got on the counter again and unselfishly squared the ball over to Saba Lobjanidze, who scored his third goal of the year.

With seven minutes of stoppage time, the Loons went into lockdown mode. While Bartosz Slisz hit Giakoumakis from close range, the striker’s header was rejected by the crossbar. Atlanta created many chances off several corner kicks in the dying minutes of stoppage. The Loons cleared them all.

“They [Atlanta] are very direct. They also have fluid movements between the wings and the midfield. At times that was tough to deal with and I was really impressed with that switching from their left to the right and finding Brooks Lennon in different pockets. We handled it very well defensively and we kept our shape. That was the toughest thing we had to do tonight.” — DJ Taylor

Minnesota United midfielder DJ Taylor (27) during an MLS match against The Houston Dynamo at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday, April 13 2024 (Tim McLaughlin)

At the end of the game, Atlanta United had 13 corner kicks to Minnesota’s 9 and 19 crosses to Minnesota’s 1. Atlanta also had 62.7% of the possession, but they lost 2-1 at the Benz.

Never tell me the odds.

Coach Gonzalo Pineda struggled to marry the stats and the result: “We have all the numbers on our side except from the score. I think we had more possession, total dominance, expected goals, chances created, high value chances, shots on goal.” [Note: Shots on goal was actually even 5-5.] Atlanta’s coach summarized, “We were dominant in that sense. But when you lose 2-1, all of that only doesn’t matter.”

Let’s keep a little optimism here.

Predictions are difficult when two teams haven’t played each other for over four years. Both teams have different head coaches and many new players. However, for the second week in a row, the Loons have beaten a rival opponent that they have historically struggled against. Who has very bad feelings about this now?

“Against these type of teams that come here, 5-4-1, very solid block, fast defenders and tall. At times we were in good areas, [but] our crosses were a bit more in the air. [Next time] we address maybe more on the ground because they were tall.  So, a couple of those little details but eventually, we need to be sharper on both ends.” — Gonzalo Pineda

Minnesota United are off to their best start with 20 points in 10 games. If you rank by Points Per Game, the Loons are tied with Inter Miami at the top of MLS Supporters Shield race with 2.00 PPG. They are 4-1-0 away from home. FC Cincinnati is the only MLS squad with a better road record (4-1-1).

DJ Taylor was asked about the key to success on the road: “It’s our chemistry. The togetherness of what we are doing with our roles. Everyone knows we have to be aggressive and win these battles. Being able to play this way with a back five is really nice because we be a lot more aggressive in defending and winning the ball higher up the pitch — as long as we are all committed, and we keep on that schedule, and keep going. That’s been helping us have huge success: just everyone helping the guy beside them and doing what they need to do in certain situations.”

No one’s ever really gone.

The Loons have a bye next week and will get some rest. They return the following week with two home games in four days: Wednesday, May 15, against the LA Galaxy and Sunday, May 18, against the Portland Timbers. Then, starting May 25, they have three matches in eight days.

Just because the Loons take a break doesn’t mean Northland Soccer Journal takes time off. Look for more soccer content from us. We’re here for you. You’ll find we’re full of surprises, like this version of “Wonderwall.”


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