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MNUFC Weather Late Barrage to Take Top Spot

The Force was with the Loons tonight, as they earned their third win in a row with a 2-1 win against Atlanta United. A (mostly) toothless performance from Atlanta United allowed Minnesota United enough time to figure out their own inadequacies in this one, and the league’s best road record just got better.

The first 45 minutes were defined by what one could describe as patient soccer, if not a little lackadaisical. Atlanta dominated the ball but were seemingly without any ideas to break the visitors down. It was strange to see a team with Thiago Almada reduced to relying on counterattacks and set pieces to create the slightest of chances, but that’s exactly what happened.

The Loons, on the other hand, spent the first half adjusting to personnel changes. The movement of Joseph Rosales to the midfield, Miguel Tapias’ return to the starting lineup, and Sang Bin Jeong’s first start since returning from international duty disrupted the fluidity of the team, but nothing too major came from it.

Once again, side-to-side movement proved to be the most dangerous aspect of the Loons’ play. Rosales, Lod, and Sang Bin created some headaches for Atlanta, but nothing dangerous enough to find the opener. The slower pace seemed to be intentional, as MNUFC looked to force their hosts to break them down. A disciplined defense and solid 5-4-1 shape while defending proved too difficult to conquer early on, but there was plenty of soccer to be played.

Honestly, the most entertaining part of the first half—aside from the tactical battle all of us soccer nerds enjoyed—was the acting of Atlanta’s Edwin Mosquera. The Colombian winger really made a meal out of every slight touch; suffice it to say, he was well fed by the end of it all.

Coach Ramsay once again went to the bench at halftime, this time swapping Carlos Harvey for the slightly injured Robin Lod. The Finn wasn’t able to get on the ball as much as usual during his shift, opening the door for Harvey to bring a different skillset to the role.

With all to play for in the final 45, the hosts came out, shockingly, a bit lazy. Several early chances gave the Loons a bit of confidence, and though nothing clear-cut came from open play, there’s more than one way to score.

In the 54th minute, Kervin Arriaga was seemingly the only one in the box that was ready for the incoming corner, rising above his man and burying the service with a fantastic header. The ensuing celebration dedicated the go-ahead goal to his newborn baby boy and was the exclamation point on what was a fantastic performance for the Honduran international.

After the goal, Atlanta seemed tired and disjointed. In the 60th minute, a sloppy giveaway in their own half saw Tani Oluwaseyi get a look at goal from the top of the box, where he fired a low, driven shot straight into the bottom right corner of the goal to double the lead before the hosts even knew what hit them. Sports betting isn’t legal in Minnesota, so don’t do it, but if it were, I’d bet on this guy scoring whenever he gets on the field.

Following the Loons’ second goal, it felt like the match would fizzle out. If anything, a third goal felt more likely than Atlanta getting back into it, but the script flipped in the 82nd minute. Giakoumakis flicked a long ball over the top to the run of Daniel Rios, who was then able to cross to the feet of Saba Lobjanidze. The Georgian winger pulled one back for the Five Stripes, seemingly waking his team up in the process.

The remainder of the match saw the home side play on the front foot, searching for an equalizer and likely frustrating their manager for not having played that way from the first whistle. The Loons’ back line bent, but they held on and managed not to break again before it was all said and done.

While neither side will be totally pleased with the product they put on the field tonight, the Loons were certainly the more composed and hungry team for the vast majority of the match. Devin Padelford’s return to the left back spot offered something different than what we’re used to seeing from Joseph Rosales, and while both players were effective, they looked like they had grown used to their previous roles. An excellent display from Arriaga and a moment of magic from Tani were the difference on the night, capping off what was an overall solid game for the Loons.

With this result, Minnesota took sole possession of the top spot in the Western Conference. This is the club’s best-ever start to an MLS season, accumulating 20 points from just 10 games. The MNUFC faithful will happily have Georgia on their minds for a little while now, as the club’s next match won’t come until the LA Galaxy visit Allianz Field on Wednesday, May 15.