Playing in their first ever cup final, Minnesota United were unable to find a second half equalizer against a 10-man Atlanta United side, coming up just short, losing 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The hosts struck twice in the first 20 minutes of the game through a Chase Gasper own goal and a strike from Pity Martinez. The Loons answered directly after halftime when Robin Lod steered home a lovely weighted cross from Kevin Molino in the 47th minute to open his account for the club. After Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was shown a second yellow card in the 74th minute, Minnesota United pushed for an equalizing goal in the final 20 minutes of the game. Coming painfully close to tying the game in the final moments of the game, Atlanta’s two early goals stood to win the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“We dug ourselves a hole with the two goals we conceded early,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “But, I thought the attitude of the guys was immense at times. We said to them at half time, ‘can we go and get the next goal?’ If we do, we feel there is something for us. And we did. As the game wore on, it was more desperation for them. We started to use the ball better, circulated the ball well. As you look back over the 90 minutes, we probably had four or five really good chances. Can’t fault the guys for their effort. A little bit too little too late.”
In what was a tough start to the game for the Loons, Adrian Heath made the decision to leave Darwin Quintero on the bench and opted for a much more defensive minded midfield three with Jan Gregus, Osvaldo Alonso and Hassani Dotson all playing together. Atlanta United threatened early and often, first in the second minute when Josef Martinez received a through ball in behind the Minnesota defense and fired past Vito Mannone but was ruled offside.
Piling on the early pressure, the hosts then demonstrated their attacking firepower as they scored twice in the first 20 minutes of the game. An unfortunate deflection off Chase Gasper’s outstretched boot in the 10th minute caused a Leandro Gonzalez Pirez cross to fly agonizingly over the outstretched hand of Vito Mannone to give the hosts the lead. Atlanta then doubled their advantage in the 16th minute when Pity Martinez fired home Justin Meram’s low cross.
“It was just one of those moments,” said goalkeeper Vito Mannone. “He crossed the ball and Chase [Gasper] put his foot out, I think he got his studs on the ball and the ball started to spin on top of me. It is the only place it can spin towards the goal. I tried to keep it out, but I didn’t. After that we kind of tried to stay in the game and we suffered a little bit.”
While they looked shaky in the opening spells of the game, Minnesota United finally began to settle in and possess the ball with confidence. Threatening mainly down the right flank through the industry of Romain Metanire, Minnesota’s best chance of the first half came through a corner kick. As Jan Gregus delivered from the corner flag in the 33rd minute, Ike Opara rose to meet the ball and steered a header just wide of Atlanta’s far post.
The Loons knocked on the door again just before halftime as they began to get Mason Toye into the game – who had looked isolated up front early on in the game. In first half stoppage time, Toye received the ball on top of the Atlanta penalty area, took a touch and wrapped his foot around a low right-footed strike that screamed just wide of Brad Guzan’s far post. Kevin Molino, who was loitering unmarked the penalty area, didn’t expect the shot to come from Toye and stared at the ball as it whizzed past him and out of play.
Minutes later, Mason Toye had another great chance to grab an important goal for the Loons just before the halftime whistle. Kevin Molino spotted the forward peeling off the back of an Atlanta defender and sent a lovely lofted ball into the path of Toye. Molino’s ball dipped a bit at the end and Toye was unable to bring the ball down and get a shot off. Frustrated that they were unable to get on the board before halftime, the referee’s whistle took us to the break with Atlanta up 2-0.
Coming out of the locker room down 2-0, Minnesota United grabbed an all-important goal just 64 seconds after the restart. Finding himself in space out wide on the edge of Atlanta’s penalty area, Kevin Molino rolled a cross into the feet of Robin Lod. Making no mistake, Lod expertly opened his body and steered a left-footed shot into the corner of the Atlanta net to open his account for MNUFC.
Seconds later, Atlanta United came close to catching the Loons off guard directly following their goal when Julian Gressel nearly fired in a third for the hosts. A dangerous cross made its way through the Minnesota penalty area and found an unmarked Gressel trailing the play. Coming up big once again, Mannone did well to stifle a stinging shot from Gressel.
Desperate to put the game out of reach for the Loons, Josef Martinez beat Mannone from close range in the 53rd minute when he combined with a streaking Justin Meram – but Meram was offside in the buildup which ruled out Martinez’s strike.
Spurred by their early second half tally that kept them in the game, Minnesota United pushed to equalize. In the 61st minute, a bit of lovely play from the right flank, this time from Romain Metanire, led to a great chance for Osvaldo Alonso. As Metanire cut back a low cross, Kevin Molino dummied the ball through his legs which rolled into the path of Alonso on top of the penalty area. Using his weaker left foot, Alonso leaned back a bit too much and his shot sailed over the goal.
Beginning to control the flow of the game, the Loons should’ve taken the lead through a close range shot from Kevin Molino in the 69th minute. When Atlanta’s Brad Guzan spilled Robin Lod’s cross directly to Molino six yards from goal, Molino fired a quick shot directly at Guzan who denied the midfielder.
Another golden chance then fell to Chase Gasper when Brad Guzan unconvincingly dropped another ball – this time from Jan Gregus’ whipped-in free kick. The ball fell at the feet of defender Chase Gasper who attempted to turn and volley the ball into the Atlanta net but he was unable to control his effort and his shot went high of the mark.
The game was then turned on its head when Atlanta United was reduced to 10 men. In the 74th minute, Defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was shown a second yellow card for a late challenge on Kevin Molino. With Atlanta playing down a man, Minnesota began to throw bodies forward to find an equalizer.
The Loons came close to forcing extra time in the waning moments of the game through a barrage of crosses into the Atlanta penalty area. In the 91st minute, Ike Opara found himself high up the field and in one motion, brought down a lofted cross, turned and hit a left-footed shot that was narrowly pushed to safety by Brad Guzan.
Playing exclusively in Atlanta’s half, the Loons continued to pump the ball directly at the home side’s defense. In the 94th minute, Ike Opara did brilliantly to head Chase Gasper’s service back across goal. Fellow center back Michael Boxall was on hand to connect with Opara’s redirected header but the defender put his shot agonizingly over the crossbar. Barely hanging on in stoppage time, Atlanta’s two goals in the first 20 minutes of the game stood to give the hosts the title of 2019 U.S. Open Cup Champions.
“As I said, we gave ourselves a huge hole to get ourselves out of,” reiterated Adrian Heath. “We got the goal and I thought the initiative was with us. It was the first time we’ve come here and had as many chances as we had tonight. Even after they scored the goal, [Michael] Boxall has a free header from eight yards out, nine yards out and Mason [Toye] had a couple. You look at the second half and we had another three or four really good chances. Disappointed, but we move on.”
Minnesota United’s next game 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. Kickoff is scheduled for 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.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Vito Mannone; D Romain Metanire, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, Chase Gasper; M Jan Gregus, Hassani Dotson, Osvaldo Alonso (Darwin Quintero 75’), Kevin Molino (Abu Danladi 85’), Robin Lod (Ethan Finlay 70’); F Mason Toye
MIN Unused Subs: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Brent Kallman; M Lawrence Olum, Miguel Ibarra
Atlanta United FC Starting XI: GK Brad Guzan; D Florentin Pogba, Julian Gressel (Jeff Larentowicz 85’), Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez; M Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Ezequiel Barco (Emerson Hyndman 70’); F Gonzalo Martinez (Franco Escobar 76’), Josef Martinez, Justin Meram
ATL Unused Subs: GK Alec Kann; D Michael Parkhurst; M Mohammed Adam; F Hector Villalba
10’ – Gasper (Own Goal) – ATL
16’ – G. Martinez (Meram) – ATL
47’ – Lod (Molino) – MIN
29’ – Dotson (YC) – MIN
44’ – Alsonso (YC) – MIN
71’ – Gonzalez Pirez (YC) – ATL
74’ – Gonzalez Pirez (2YC) – ATL
87’ – Escobar (YC) – ATL
87’ – Gasper (YC) – MIN