Match Preview: Atlanta United vs. MNUFC

Whether it’s the Twins beating the Braves in the 1991 World Series or the Vikings losing to the Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, Minnesota sports fans don’t like Atlanta sports teams.

In 2017, MLS expanded by two teams: Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC, but the team with the deeper history almost had to change their name. Black Hart owner, Wes Burdine, recalled: “One of the things I think about this matchup is how Arthur Blank came into this league thinking he could tell Minnesota that they were no longer [Minnesota] United, and the league almost let him get away with it. So they can eat sh*t.”

Since 2017, Minnesota United FC has played Atlanta four times and only won once. However, the first meeting was perhaps the most memorable as it was MNUFC’s first MLS home game at then-TCF Bank Stadium, dubbed “The Snopener.” Minnesota soccer fan Eric Grady couldn’t remember details of 6-1 MNUFC loss, but stated, “I got snowed on a lot and the hot chocolate lines were very long.”

Sam, cohost of Pod on You Loons, remembered “I planned on not wearing a jacket so I could show off my newly purchased Loons gear. I couldn’t have made it a quarter mile before deciding I need to go back to the car and grab my winter jacket.” He added, “We got our butts kicked that game, but I didn’t really care. It was a cool milestone to finally have an MLS club in our city. I was glad to be a part of the opening match and saw a bright future for the club. I still do.” Later that year, Minnesota United would go to Atlanta and win, but that has been the lone Minnesota win this series.

The last time these two teams met was the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final. As NSJ reported last week, the fans of the “MNUFC vs SKC” rivalry tend to get along better than the players. This may be true of the the 2017 MLS expansion rivals. Current True North Elite president Tonia made the trip to Atlanta for that Open Cup final and remembered, “The Atlanta fans had a wonderful tailgate! They were very welcoming to us as fans, and we had a really good time there.”

Atlanta United have had six different head coaches, two of those being interims. MNUFC have had four head coaches by the same measure. Last Saturday, head coach Eric Ramsay led MNUFC to a win over Sporting Kansas City, against historic trends. This Saturday, Ramsay will try to reverse the trend against another MNUFC rival.

Form (W-L-D)

MIN: 4th in West (17 pts.), 5-2-2, GD+5, Last 5: W-W-L-D-L

ATL: 9th in East (12 pts.), 3-3-3, GD +4, Last 5: D-L-D-D-W

Series Record — MNUFC (W-L-D)

The teams played to a 1-1 draw in the 2018 preseason friendly in the Carolina Cup, but we at NSJ do not count friendlies in the series record.

MLS Overall: 1-3-0

MLS Home: 0-1-0

MLS Away: 1-2-0

USOC: 0-1-0



Out: Jordan Adebayo-Smith (ankle), Hugo Bacharach (knee), Hassani Dotson (thigh), Clint Irwin (thigh), Emanuel Reynoso (not due to injury)

Questionable: None

Kervin Arriaga’s wife gave birth Wednesday. Ramsay was understanding: “I know how that feels after the first couple of nights. So we need to see how he is today and how he’s responded to that [Friday’s training]. And we won’t take any risks with him because he’s a player obviously, that has a bit of an injury history not long ago. He [had] been out for a long while, so we don’t want to rush him back.”

Ramsay closed with a balanced answer: “Some are very sort of protective of their family time and their wife in that situation. Others will play on the on the day of the birth. So, with Kervin fortunately, the timing has been good. So, he’s got a chance at least.”

Atlanta United

Out: Jamal Thiaré (hamstring), Derrick Williams (calf)

Questionable: Xande Silva (adductor)

With Miles Robinson transferred to FC Cincinnati, Atlanta spent designated-player money to get Norwegian defender Stian Gregersen from Girondins de Bordeaux. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Gregersen suffered a meniscus injury in a 2-0 win against Orlando and has missed all of April. Will he be well enough to start?

Minnesota United FC head coach Eric Ramsay during an MLS match against Real Salt Lake at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Saturday, April 6th 2024 (Tim McLaughlin)

Training Notes

On Tuesday, Eric Ramsay answered questions on an array of topics. On a willingness to make early substitutions, Ramsay explained, “The game has changed from the subs perspective since you’re permitted to make five [as opposed to the previous limit of three]. So, I don’t think there’s any longer a sort of ‘insulting’, for want of a better word, for a player to be taken off at half time. I think it affords the opportunity to look at the first half and second half in very different ways.” He later reinforced, “I’ve tried to make it clear to the players: there’s no element of ‘attack on performance’ when we make these changes. It’s genuinely all about pragmatism, adaptability, and meeting the conditions of a game that isn’t the game you prepared for at the beginning.”

About the difficulty of playing in NFL stadia with turf, Ramsay said, “There are definitely some parallels [between Charlotte and Atlanta] in that they’re hard places to go to for reasons that I suppose aren’t the norm in that sense. There are a couple of things particular about going to play in those types of venues. So, we’ve got to make sure that we sort of repeat what we did in Charlotte from the perspective of mentality and how we started the game. But also, a big message will be ‘That counts for nothing. Saturday counts for nothing.’ We are starting from scratch again against a really good team over there.”

Dayne St. Clair also thought Atlanta’s recent struggles make them more dangerous: “[Coach] Eric’s done a great job of adapting to the different teams and the different threats that they pose, but we know it’s not going to be an easy game. Especially, they’re looking to improve their record. Obviously they’re on a bit of a slide now. So, we know it’s going to be difficult.”

Key Players


Whatever formation MNUFC play in this Saturday, the back two rows will be key in slowing Atlanta’s attack. For Loons that have played more than 90 minutes in 2024, captain and centerback Michael Boxall leads the team in clearances and passes completed.

Who will start in the central midfield? Wil Trapp and Robin Lod are likely, depending on the formation, but Dotson is out with a hamstring injury and Arriaga may be unavailable. So, perhaps another winger will play pivot?

How will Ramsay employ Teemu Pukki and Tani Oluwaseyi? Usually the two strikers sub for one another. Last week, we saw them both start for the first time in a 5-3-2. While Ramsay took Pukki off at half time against SKC, this does not mean the coaching staff will not find a different way to fit them both on the pitch.

“It’s the first time and I think it’s one of those things where the more you do it, the easier it’s going to become. I think the biggest emphasis today from Eric [Ramsay] was that [Pukki and I] just try to stay as close together as possible and kind of play off each other, and I think we did pretty well at moments. And even on the other side of the ball, the way we pressed, we kinda pressed together.” — Tani Oluwaseyi after the win vs. SKC

Minnesota United forward Tani Oluwaseyi (14) passes the ball during the match against Real Salt Lake at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., on Saturday, April 6, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)


Atlanta United

The last time these two Uniteds met was the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final. Many Atlanta United players from that 2019 team are not longer there: Miles Robinson, Brek Shea, Darlington Nagbe, Justin Meram, Julian Gressel, and the designated players Pity Martínez and Josef Martínez, have all moved on. Ozzie Alonzo, who was with the Loons in 2019 but played for Atlanta last year, is now retired.

“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

Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (97) thanks fans following the MNUFC v Sporting Kansas City match on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

One player that has been there since Atlanta’s 2017 inaugural year is captain and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Close and far from Guzan are their two attack-minded fullbacks: 19 year-old home-grown Caleb Wiley (left) and Brook Lennon (right). Brooks Lennon leads the team in assists (4) and key passes (24).

“[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 would be one to watch in that sense tomorrow.” — Eric Ramsay

Head coach Gonzalo Pineda usually plays in a 4-2-3-1. The two attackers to watch are central attacking midfielder Thiago Almada and striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, both designated players. Giakoumakis leads Atlanta with 5 goals in 2024, and Almada is just behind Lennon on key passes with 23.

Minnesota vs. Atlanta Miscellany

I asked Minnesota Sports historian Dan WHENESOTA if he remembered any Minnesota-vs-Atlanta moments outside that 1991 World Series and 1998 NFC Championship Game. He mentioned two such incidents.

The first was from the 1960s. The Vikings played the Atlanta Falcons, but Vikings head coach Norm Van Brocklin didn’t like scrambling quarterbacks and preferred them to stay in the pocket. He benched Fran Tarkenton, who played his college career at University of Georgia, in front of many of Tarkenton’s friends and family members.

The other moment came from ice hockey. Yes, the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to renew a Manitoba-Minnesota border battle with the Wild, but before that was this moment from 1972 when the Minnesota North Stars visited the Atlanta Flames.

Was Ron Gant out at first base? How far could the 1998 Vikings have gone if Gary Anderson made that field goal? Should Adrian Heath have started Darwin Quintero and/or Miguel Ibarra in that 2019 US Open Cup final? Minnesota sports fans will always have memories and controversies. What new ones will arise this Saturday? Will Kirko Chainz make his first appearance at a Loons game? Follow us on Saturday to find out.



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