Another week, another wonderful quirk of the MLS schedule. This time, however, Atlanta United will be playing during the international break because of delays to the construction of Mercedes Benz Stadium. Originally, the Loons were scheduled to be in town on August 13, but that game was pushed back and is being played Tuesday night. The re-scheduling means that the Expansion Derby will feature two teams with players on international duty and those who are left on short rest.
Atlanta United is coming off of their most unimpressive attacking performance in months. Nothing really worked for the team going forward, Julian Gressel couldn’t pull the strings as he did against Montreal or Philadelphia, Josef Martinez failed to get in behind the defense, and even Jacob Peterson couldn’t score a late winner. This may seem like a really, really disappointing result, but Atlanta faced a tough opponent who has 11 wins at home and kept them from scoring. New England has been excellent at home this year and if it weren’t for their abysmal road record, they would be in the playoffs. The result wasn’t ideal, but if this were the playoffs a 0-0 draw during the away leg of a home and home series would be seen as a very good result.
As for Minnesota, the Loons went from having an abysmal season to having a mediocre one. They had won three of their last five until losing to Houston on Saturday. That brief run of success pulled them into 9th place in the Western Conference sitting three points above both Colorado and Los Angeles. Staying out of last place along with the motivation to get revenge for the snow game is about all they have to play for at this point in the season.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for...
International absences galore
Atlanta United will come into the match missing Brad Guzan and Josef Martinez on international duty. With Guzan out, Tata Martino seems set to turn to Kyle Reynish with Alec Kann still injured. Filling the role of Josef Martinez will offer Tata some interesting options. So far this year Tito Villalba has filled in most effectively when Josef has been unavailable. Kenwyne Jones has also started at striker, though the team seems to play more effectively when he comes in as a sub.
For their part, Minnesota will be missing wingers Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas in the attack. The team will miss Molino in the attack, but the most important absences, without a doubt, are their starting center backs Michael Boxall and Francisco Calvo. After adding Boxall in mid-season, the team saw improved defensive performances and won four of the 10 games that he started. Atlanta might not have two key pieces of their attack available for the match, but it is a big step down from the first and second choice Minnesota backline that could see Jermaine Taylor and Brent Kallman trying to contain Tito Villalba and company.
Not the same Minnesota United
The Minnesota team that Atlanta scored six goals against in the snow game is mostly gone. While the Loons aren’t going to make the playoffs and are more than a few big pieces away from really competing in MLS, the team has some nice players that might help them get there. Christian Ramirez is the star of the show as far as this week is concerned and should be a player to watch going forward. The Loons striker leads the team with 13 goals, he’s mostly a poacher though has pace to get in behind a backline but his respectable scoring record in the league should not be diminished.
Aside from him, Atlanta will need to look out for Ethan Finlay who was traded to the Loons from Columbus in the summer transfer window. He has three goals in seven games and has seemed to regain whatever he was lacking with the Crew.
A test for depth
It goes without saying that Brad Guzan has been a major asset to the team in goal. His seven shutouts in 12 games is astounding and Bruce Arena would be wrong not to start him in goal for both World Cup qualifiers coming up. Kyle Reynish will have to step up from his first start when he allowed two goals to San Jose. Minnesota would be wise to try and test him early so the opening minutes of the game will be crucial to see how his chemistry with the defense has improved since the 4th of July.
What’s more though, who knows what kind of team Tata Martino will put out. It seems unlikely that he’ll rest players in defense with nearly two weeks until United travels to New York to face the Red Bulls. Then again, they’ve played a lot of soccer recently Chris McCann, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, or Anton Walkes may be due for a rest.
The attack might be a different story. Yamil Asad looked gassed against New England and Tito Villalba, though he might actually be a cyborg, has played a whole lot of soccer recently. Tata has shown that he is highly averse to heavily rotating the squad and that could be the case again tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if he sees how close he can get the needle to empty before this team can refuel before heading to New Jersey. If he does rotate, the United ‘B’ Team derby could be an all bets are off type of game.