Mar 31, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Atlanta United players celebrate after a goal against the Minnesota United during the first half at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — An own goal deflected off Minnesota United captain Francisco Calvo in the opening moments of Saturday’s match proved the only score on a cold night as Atlanta United ground out a road win.
Though the temperature again hovered around 20° F at kickoff, the contest was in all other respects a large departure from last March’s meeting between the two teams. Last year at TCF Bank Stadium, three members of the Five Stripes scored a combined six goals on the hosts. A year later, keeping all Atlanta players off the score sheet was a hollow victory for the Loons.
“They don’t deserve that win,” Calvo said. “Even when they had 11 players on the field, we were better than them — since the beginning of the game.”
Unfortunately for Cavlo and company, Atlanta started quickly by swinging a corner in toward Ibson, whose attempted clearance forced a reaction save from Matt Lampson. The rebound was headed toward goal by Héctor Villalba, then deflected off of the crossbar and Calvo’s knee before going into the goal.
“It hit the post — I wasn’t expecting that,” Calvo said. “Unlucky.”
Both Uniteds endeavored to play an open game as the first half unfolded, with each taking space where it was provided. However, turnovers in midfield limited the scoring chances for both.
Then Leandro González Pirez — already on a yellow card — gave Loons winger Sam Nicholson a shoulder into the video boards after both players’ momentum carried them out of bounds. Referee Chris Penso issued Pirez a second yellow and sent the defender off in the 38th minute.
Reduced to 10 men, Gerardo Martino’s charges sought to protect their narrow lead.
Listen: Adrian Heath interview
“You’ve got to obviously try and be patient, stretch the play, and move the ball around,” Heath said of his team’s strategy going into the second half. “I thought they defended the box well. Other than the final ball, I thought our play was excellent.
Minnesota attempted 50 crosses on the evening as Atlanta packed its penalty area. To Heath’s disappointment, the Loons connected on only nine.
Abu Danladi, who started up top as Minnesota’s lone striker, was taken off in the 61st minute. Though nursing a nagging ankle injury, Christian Ramirez entered the game in an effort to give the Loons added size in the box.
The change made sense, but did not deliver the desired result.
Minnesota pumped cross after cross into traffic, but the majority did not find anyone wearing gray.
Having committed to defending deep, a number of Atlanta clearances were collected by Minnesota, but the Loons were unable to take advantage of those second chances.
The closest the Loons came to equalizing was in the 88th minute, when winger Sam Nicholson curled a ball to the foot of 81st-minute substitute Mason Toye. The forward’s redirection glanced off the near post for a goal kick.
Seven minutes of added time — due to Atlanta injuries that drew ire from the announced crowd of 18,057 — were not enough for Minnesota to break down the Five Stripes, and the visitors left with all three points.
The mood in the Minnesota locker room was a mix of frustration and pride.
“I’m really proud of the players,” said Heath. “I thought they were magnificent. I thought we made a really bad mistake in the [third] minute. After that, I thought we were the better team, first half.”
Winger Ethan Finlay echoed his head coach’s thoughts.
“It’s disappointing. I even felt like before they go down a man we had the better of the play… I don’t know if we did enough to get three points tonight, but we certainly deserved a point out of this game.”
Listen: Ethan Finlay interview
On the subject of what was due to the Loons, Calvo offered a second take.
“I’m tired of how Major League Soccer gives a lot of credit to Atlanta, or [expletive] LAFC. It’s weird how Minnesota wins and Major League Soccer [says], ‘Ah, OK, Minnesota wins.’ But Atlanta wins, or LAFC wins, and they make a show of it. I don’t know why. I think we deserve more respect in this league. I’m tired of that, because we are 23 teams in this league.
“The people talking stupid things about us, you’re going to shoot your mouth off, and see how Minnesota is going to do this year.”
Listen: Francisco Calvo interview