The snow and cold couldn’t keep 35,043 fans from showing up to support Minnesota United for their MLS home opener against fellow expansion side Atlanta United. The packed house at TCF Bank Stadium was the largest crowd for a soccer match in Minnesota since the Strikers defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies in front of 52,621 on May 28, 1984.
“The crowd, the supporters were fantastic,” said defender Vadim Demidov. “They were with us all the time, the whole 90 minutes. And they were much greater than us today, I take my hat off to them. It was a fantastic crowd. We felt the support all the way to the end. This is all on us and we have to take it in and we really don't want to let them down the next game.”
Atlanta United’s vaunted attack got right to work. In the third minute, Josef Martinez got free on the left side in Minnesota’s half, onside but behind the defense. Putting on a burst of the kind of speed he’s known for, he pushed the ball into the box and slotted it past John Alvbage and into the right side of the net.
Minnesota United threatened in the sixth minute with their first corner kick cleared away over the goal and a second taken short, but nothing came of it. As the snow came down and built up, players slipped and slid on the turf while the bright orange ball skidded and ricocheted.
In similar fashion to the first goal, Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron carved out space on the left side in the 13th minute and left Minnesota’s defense wrongfooted. He fired a high rocket with his left foot and beat Alvbage again, giving Atlanta United an early 2-0 lead.
Minnesota United began to settle down a bit, but continued to struggle with holding possession through the middle. An attacking run by Christian Ramirez went unsupported and came to naught, and then a short time later, Johan Venegas found an opening but the slippery conditions kept him from putting anything behind his shot. It trickled harmlessly into the arms of Alec Kann.
Despite winning corner kicks and free kicks through the middle of the first half, MNUFC couldn’t find the net. In the 27th minute, Atlanta added to the lead when Martinez shot the gap between two defenders on his first touch and found the back of the net.
At the 30-minute mark, the Loons got their first taste of the net after Collen Warner was brought down in the box, giving MNUFC a penalty kick. Kevin Molino lined it up and drove it past Kann for Minnesota United’s first penalty kick goal in MLS history.
For the final 15 minutes of the first half, Minnesota United continued to build up attacking play but nothing came of it. Terrific chances went begging, including a dramatic moment in stoppage time when Minnesota got at least three good looks (including a carom off the crossbar by Jermaine Taylor) as the ball pinballed around in the penalty area, and the sides went into the half with the score 3-1 in favor of Atlanta.
“We gave ourselves a mountain to climb when we were 3-0 down after such a short period of time,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Then we get it to 3-1 and we have a couple of chances and we hit the crossbar and I thought that if we got the next goal, we might make something of it. And that was all we spoke about at halftime. 'Can we go and get the next goal, keep the crowd engaged in the game?' But every time we got a little bit of momentum going, it seemed like they went down to their end and scored. Obviously, the more you chase it, the more you leave holes. As I said, there was some quality finishing but on the whole, I think a lot of it's to do with our bad defending.”
Hoping to cut the lead or at least not let it get any bigger, Minnesota United instead saw it blossom almost immediately after the whistle to begin the second half. In the 52nd minute, Hector Villalba’s shot from the right side ricocheted off of Vadim Demidov and bounced to Almiron in midfield, where he knocked in the half-volley to complete the brace.
Falling behind 4-1 took the momentum that Minnesota United had begun to build at the end of the first half away from them. In the 75th minute they conceded again when Martinez snaked his way past Alvbage to complete his hat trick with a tap in and then sub Jacob Peterson added a sixth goal in stoppage time to put the cherry on top.
To add injury to insult, Alvbage suffered a nasty laceration above his left knee in the 85th minute, forcing Adrian Heath to bring in Bobby Shuttleworth.
“I think the only positive we can take from today is the people who braved the elements to come out,” said Heath. “I thought their support was incredible. It's just a pity that we couldn't give them any type of performance that warranted the support that we got today. So, very disappointed and I apologize for that because they didn't deserve that. We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
In all, a game MNUFC will try to forget as they look ahead to next week’s match against the Colorado Rapids in Colorado. Tune in to My29 or listen on 1500 ESPN at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 to see if Minnesota United can get their first points of the season.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK John Alvbage (Bobby Shuttleworth 86’); D Jermaine Taylor, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov, Jerome Thiesson; M Rasmus Schuller (Bashkim Kadrii 72’), Collen Warner, Mohammed Saeid, Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino; F Christian Ramirez
MIN Unused Subs: D Brent Kallman, Justin Davis; M Ibson, Miguel Ibarra; F Abu Danladi
Atlanta United FC Starting XI: GK Alec Kann; D Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Perez, Michael Parkhurst, Tyrone Mears; M Julian Gressel, Jeff Larentowicz, Yamil Asad (Chris McCann 77’), Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba (Jacob Peterson 84’); F Josef Martinez (Kenwyne Jones 82’)
ATL Unused Subs: GK Kyle Reynish; D Mark Bloom, Anton Walkes; M Harrison Heath
3’ – Martinez (Almiron) – ATL
13’ – Almiron (Gressel) – ATL
27’ – Martinez (Asad) – ATL
30’ – Molino (PK) – MIN
52’ – Almiron – ATL
75’ – Martinez (Vilalba) – ATL
90+’ – Peterson (Garza) – ATL
19’ – Schuller (YC) – MIN
34’ – Gonzalez Perez (YC) – ATL
41’ – Calvo (YC) – MIN
48’ – Vilalba (YC) – ATL
57’ – Molino (YC) – MIN