Storylines, Presented by BMW

Storylines | A Tale of Two Clubs


When does a matchup become a rivalry? I mean, surely there’s a tipping point where every pseudo-feud turns into a full-blown saga, right? The more I look into MNUFC’s run-ins with Atlanta United, the more I feel like there’s something there. Maybe if they played a bit more often, nature would take its course, locking them in one of those epic struggles for superiority that legends are made of. Maybe they were meant to be the Barca to our Madrid, THE Ohio State University to our TTUN.

Alas, we don’t see our expansion buddies on the schedule very often, and while that’s kept the matchup from heating up too much, it hasn’t stopped these clubs’ stories from weaving together in significant ways. I took a look through the archives to better understand our relationship with our Georgian counterparts, and I had quite a bit of fun re-manifesting this rivalry that’s gone quiet as of late.

Intertwined Since the Start

During the heyday of MLS expansion, teams were popping up left and right. It’s like Don Garber was doing his best Oprah impression, but instead of cars, he was handing out soccer franchises. But I digress. In 2014, Atlanta was awarded team number 22, and just a year later, the Twin Cities became the 23rd market to enter the Major League Soccer family. But there was work to be done before either city saw their teams on the big stage.

After a few years of preparations, both teams began league play in 2017, using the same naming pattern to introduce themselves to the soccer world. I should point out that Minnesota United was named first, and while you kind of copied us, we know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We forgive you, Atlanta, but do your own homework next time. We would never copy something like that.

When two teams join at the same time, people can’t help but lump them together for a while. They’re shiny, new, and exciting, and when the eyes of the league are on you, it’s hard not to compare one to the other. Unfortunately, the first chance for direct comparison didn’t go Minnesota’s way, as the Five Stripes won 6-1 at a snow-covered TCF Bank Stadium, spoiling the Loons’ home debut and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Minnesotan soccer fans. Adrian Heath and company got revenge in the reverse fixture later that season, though, stealing three points with a 3-2 victory at the Benz.

The clubs went on to vastly different finishes in year one, with the Loons sitting at ninth in the West on 36 points and the Atlantans locking down fourth in the East with 55 points.

Paths Converge Again

After 2017, it wouldn’t have been terribly surprising if these clubs only met every other year, at most. Being in different conferences, they were never going to be familiar foes for long, and though they had much different stories, they continued to find themselves in the same conversations.

2018 was a bumper year for Tata Martino and the Five Stripes. They finished second in the Supporters’ Shield standings, just two points behind the New York Red Bulls’ mark of 71. While they missed out on that fabulous shield, they claimed MLS Cup instead, beating Portland 2-0 in the final and beating MNUFC to the first trophy in the 2017 expansion class.

The Loons took that personally, and in 2019, they really stepped it up. Not only did they secure their best finish in MLS history (fourth place with 53 points), but they also made a run to the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final behind Darwin Quintero’s inspired goal scoring. And who was waiting for them in the final? You guessed it, the Portland Timbers.

Just kidding; it was Atlanta United, obviously.

With another chance to get the upper hand on their long-lost twin and lift their first trophy since joining MLS, the Loons gave it all they had. An early two-goal deficit ultimately proved to be too much to come back from, though, and despite Robin Lod’s second-half goal and a late red card for Atlanta, MNUFC fell 2-1.

Since then, these two eternally entwined clubs haven’t met again—until now. Saturday’s match marks the long-awaited revival of the Class of 2017 Derby, and while Atlanta United has had a better start to life in MLS, I have a feeling that the Loons are going to end up getting the upper hand as time goes on. Current form certainly favors MNUFC, and given the away results they’ve already picked up this season, I wouldn’t bet against the Black and Blue to land the next punch in this rivalry-to-be.