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Atlanta United FC vs. Minnesota United FC | U.S. Open Cup Final Preview

ATLANTA UNITED FC vs. MINNESOTA UNITED FC
Mercedes-Benz Stadium | Atlanta, Georgia
08.27.19 | U.S. Open Cup Final
7:00 p.m. CT (Stream: ESPN+, MNUFC Radio on SKOR North)

“Minnesota United Goes for Cup Glory” was not a headline that many would have expected to read at the beginning of the 2019 season but months later, here we are. The Loons are aiming to win their first ever trophy as they take on Atlanta United — their fellow expansion side from 2017 — in the Final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After a late goal from Erik Hurtado defeated MNUFC away at Sporting KC on Thursday night, Adrian Heath will hope that his side can respond in triumphant fashion and accomplish something that only one other team has done this entire season – win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Loons will have to turn in a complete performance, including finding the final ball that continues to elude them and shutting down record goalscorer Josef Martinez. While the task at hand may seem gargantuan, a contingent of Minnesota United supporters traveling to Atlanta will be there to cheer their heroes to glory.

The U.S. Open Cup Final kicks off this Tuesday night, August 27, at 7:00 p.m. CT. Coverage is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. streaming on ESPN+ and live on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.

With such an important match on the horizon, Adrian Heath was cautious in his team selection on Thursday night. In the end, the Loons were downed by a late Sporting KC goal from Erik Hurtado after a solid performance. Angelo Rodriguez and Osvaldo Alonso – who have struggled recently with small injuries – were not risked by Heath given the magnitude of Tuesday’s Final. Instead, Mason Toye returned from suspension to lead the Minnesota line, Hassani Dotson sat in his favored central midfield role and Wilfried Moimbé-Tahrat made his first start for the club. While MNUFC had decisive spells of possession and created opportunities in the attacking third, its final ball once again left something to be desired as the visitors were unable to score on the night. 

“It was a tough defeat because I thought that we had done enough to take something from the game,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “When I look back at the game, we created some good opportunities. Once again, we really didn’t find the perfect pass in the final third. There was some pleasing stuff and some stuff that we know we need to work on and get better.”

With the game on the line and the score level on the road, many visiting coaches may choose to either settle for a point or make attacking changes to try to steal all three – Heath went with the latter. Making three very offensive substitutions in the second half, Heath brought on Thomás Chacón, Darwin Quintero and Abu Danladi to try to swing the tide of a nil-nil game. While this strategy can reap rewards, it also leaves fatigued defenses more exposed as more men are thrown forward in search of a winning goal. In this case, a bursting run through from Erik Hurtado in the 88th minute allowed the forward to get in behind Michael Boxall and the MNUFC defense and slot past Vito Mannone to secure a late SKC victory.

“It was hard to digest,” said Mannone. “I thought we were a grasp away from another clean sheet so it was painful. I thought we stayed in the game and fought for our lives. I thought if we were a little bit smarter, maybe we could’ve gotten away with a point. We made changes to attack and create more in the last 15 and unfortunately sometimes, it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t and we ended up losing the point.”

While a visit to face Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park may be high on the list of road challenges in MLS, squaring off against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may top that list. Coming into the league in 2017, Atlanta have lost just six of their 48 MLS home games at Mercedes-Benz, which equates to an astonishing home win rate of 87.5%. One of those six losses, though, came at the hands of Minnesota United in 2017 – a game that many die-hard MNUFC supporters will fondly remember. A stunning 96th minute header from Kevin Molino gave the Loons a shocking 3-2 win at Mercedes-Benz. While this was an MLS fixture, Adrian Heath knows that the circumstances will be raised ten-fold on Tuesday night given the ruthless win or go home cup mentality on display.

“We know it’s going to be difficult,” said Heath. “It’s Atlanta, maybe one of the most difficult places to go and try to win a game and that’s what we have to do. It’s not a league game where you think, well, we’ll take a point, you’ve got to go and try to win it. It’s going to be difficult but we’ll prepare the best that we can and go and give it the best shot. The mood in the camp is good. It looks like we’ve got virtually everybody fit.”

With a clean bill of health and spirits high among MNUFC players, the realization of what it will take to win a first trophy for the club has set in. While Minnesota United will not only have to create – and finish – the attacking opportunities that present themselves, it will also be required to turn in a disciplined, focused and hard-nosed defensive display against one of the most dangerous offensive teams in MLS.

Atlanta United’s prolific forward Josef Martinez is having yet another career year as he has shattered his own MLS record for scoring in successive games. His scoring streak currently sits at 12 straight games and the Venezuelan has shown no signs of stopping there. When the teams previously met in MLS play this season, Martinez was a thorn in Minnesota United’s defense, scoring twice in the last ten minutes to propel Atlanta to a 3-0 win. While the score line didn’t do a resolute Minnesota United performance justice, it showed Adrian Heath’s side just how solid they had to be to get a result in Atlanta.

“You need to be extremely well-organized defensively,” said Heath. “You need to be solid because they are very good attacking-wise. They’ve got power all over the team. We need a top game from everybody and we need to be on top of our game, especially our rhythm away from home, being solid and making it difficult for them. It’s down to us to be solid on the night and be in the game and make it difficult for them. Once we do that, I’m sure we will create chances.”

“As I said before, it’s history for the club and making one more step, all together,” said Mannone, directly addressing the MNUFC fans. “I want to dream and I’ve dreamt since I came here. I want to lift the cup and bring it back home and then we can have a party all together.”

After the U.S. Open Cup final, Minnesota United is back on the road as they travel to the Banc of California Stadium to take on Western Conference leaders LAFC on Sunday, September 1. That game kicks off at 9:30 p.m. CT with pregame coverage beginning at 9:00 p.m. on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.

PATH TO THE FINAL

Fourth Round:

Atlanta United 3, Charleston Battery 1
Minnesota United 4, Sporting KC 1

Round of 16:

Columbus Crew 2, Atlanta United 3
Houston Dynamo 2, Minnesota United 3

Quarterfinals:

Atlanta United 2, Saint Louis FC 0
Minnesota United 6, New Mexico United 1

Semifinals:

Orlando City 0, Atlanta United 2
Minnesota United 2, Portland Timbers 1

Final:

Atlanta United vs. Minnesota United

INJURY REPORT

Minnesota United FC

  • None

Atlanta United

  • OUT: D – Brek Shea (right knee)
  • OUT: D – Franco Escobar (right upper leg)
  • QUESTIONABLE: M – Eric Remedi (right hip)

FIRST TOUCHES

  • Both teams are making their first appearance in the U.S. Open Cup Final.
  • If he takes the field, Osvaldo Alonso will be making a record seventh appearance in a U.S. Open Cup Final. His last five were made with Seattle Sounders FC and his first came with Charleston Battery in 2008.
  • Darwin Quintero leads the U.S. Open Cup with six goals in four games.
  • Angelo Rodriguez and Atlanta’s Brandon Vazquez are tied for second with four goals each.
  • This is the furthest a Minnesota team has advanced in the competition. The previous record was held by the 2005 Minnesota Thunder, who reached the Semifinal.
  • The Loons played three MLS teams (Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, and Portland Timbers) and one USL Championship team (New Mexico United) to reach the final.
  • Atlanta played two MLS teams (Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City SC) and two USL Championship teams (Charleston Battery and Saint Louis FC) on its road to the final.
  • Atlanta has won a trophy already this season, defeating Club America 3-2 in the Campeones Cup earlier this month.
  • Alonso has won the Open Cup four times, all with Seattle. He led the team to three consecutive titles from 2009 to 2011.
  • Lawrence Olum won the Cup with Sporting Kansas City in 2012.•    Ike Opara has claimed the title twice in his career, both with SKC in 2015 and 2017.
  • Minnesota has scored multiple goals in every Open Cup game this year.
  • This is the 106th U.S. Open Cup, the third longest-running soccer competition in the world.
  • This is the first year Minnesota has advanced past the Round of 16 since 2010.
  • The Loons are 1-1-0 all-time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • This is Minnesota’s first appearance in a championship game since the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl.
  • The Loons have won more games in this Open Cup than the last six combined.
  • This is Minnesota’s second of four consecutive road games in all competitions.
  • Michael Parkhurst and Ethan Finlay were teammates on Columbus Crew SC from 2014 through 2016.
  • Justin Meram and Finlay played together for Crew SC from 2012 to 2017.Brek Shea and Kevin Molino were teammates on Orlando City SC in 2015 and 2016.
  • Brendan Moore, Romario Williams and Mikey Ambrose played for Orlando City SC’s U23 team in 2012, 2014 and 2016 respectively when Kevin Molino was on the first team. Ambrose also appeared five times for the first team in 2016.
  • Jeff Larentowicz and Bobby Shuttleworth were teammates on the New England Revolution in 2009.
  • Atlanta Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra and Minnesota Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee were teammates on the Chicago Fire in 2001 and 2002.
  • Brad Guzan and Vito Mannone were both loaned to Hull City in 2011.
  • Alec Kann, Ike Opara and Lawrence Olum were teammates on Sporting Kansas City in 2016.
  • Darlington Nagbe and Lawrence Olum played for the Portland Timbers in 2017.
  • Gordon Wild and Dayne St. Clair were teammates at the University of Maryland in 2016 and 2017.
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