The narrative surrounding Atlanta United FC’s match with Minnesota United FC centered around how the South American players - namely Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Hector Villalba - were going to adjust to tricky and unfamiliar weather conditions. Obviously, as a soccer player, and this was stated as much in this week’s training, you have to adjust to whatever conditions you face.
Six goals later, maybe it’s safe to say the adjustment went well. Atlanta United’s first-ever win ended with the most goals scored by an expansion team in its first year in the league and the franchise’s first-ever hat trick, courtesy of Martinez (3’, 27’, 75’).
It was pretty much all Atlanta United from the opening whistle: the Loons were unable to adjust to Atlanta’s speed as the Five Stripes ended the festive mood on their way to the first win in franchise history. The visitors helped themselves to a dream start with two goals in the opening fifteen minutes of the game - the first by Martinez in the third minute and a nice near-post strike by Almiron in the 13th to make it 2-0 early.
#ATLUTD with the early 2-0 lead vs #MNUFC! Great ball by Gressel finds the clever run of Almirón, who finishes near post! #MINvATL #MLS pic.twitter.com/B0VIIJcnY5— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) March 12, 2017
The advantage grew to 3-0 as Martinez found himself on the right end of a nice touch and broke free of the defense in the 30th minute. Minnesota was desperate to gain any sense of momentum after that, and following a successful penalty by Kevin Molino to make it 3-1, it looked as if they had gotten it as the Trinidadian nearly made it 3-2 on a shot that ended up wide.
Would the Loons turn that into a second-half comeback? Not hardly. In the 52nd minute, Villalba, who came along the right side completely unmarked, had a pass attempt find its way off a Minnesota defender to the foot of Almiron, who turned in a lovely strike to stretch it to 4-1.
“On the first goal, we found a lot of space on that play and I was just able to take it and hit it really hard,” Almiron told the media following the match. “And on the second goal, I was a little lucky that the ball fell to me like that and that I scored.”
There was no way back for the Loons after that as the rout was on in full force. Martinez finished an incredible day with a hat trick marker in the 75th to put the margin at 5-1 and solidify his man of the match status. Late-game sub Jacob Peterson’s stoppage time tally provided the final margin.
“It’s always nice to score, and even more so when it’s three,” Martinez would say post-match. But the most important thing is that the team got the win tonight and it feels really good to get the first win in team history.”
“I think everyone played really well,” Atlanta coach Tata Martino said afterwards. “I think obviously tomorrow, everyone will talk about Miguel [Almiron] and Josef [Martinez], but I think the team had a really good performance.
“I was a little worried about learning how those games go because I’ve never coached a game in the snow before. And above all in the second half, I thought we played a simple game, a really serious game and we avoided problems.”
It was a day to remember for the visiting side as they absolutely outplayed Minnesota from basically the start of the match. They head home and enter a short week of training before Saturday’s home match against the Chicago Fire at Bobby Dodd Stadium with a load of confidence and their first-ever win in the history books.