Atlanta United finally made its big on-field splash in MLS with a 6-1 throttling of Minnesota United -- the most one-sided score line in the league so far this season. Players endured some of the most intense winter conditions you’re likely to see in the sport, with considerable snowfall through the duration of the match. But in the end, it was Atlanta United, the team less acclimated to the conditions, who established its dominance.
The Snow was a factor, but not in the way we expected.
The snow was a factor in the game for sure. Players were slipping all over the place and everyone looked like grumpy old men with unruly white eyebrows desperately in need of trimming. But while many naturally assumed the snow would be a deterrent to goals, it proved quite the opposite. It made the game even more open, with players from both teams making frequent errors and providing the opposition with chances. Despite the goalfest on show, the game was less about attacking impetus and more about limiting those costly mistakes.
Atlanta has true quality in Almiron, Martinez.
This might sound like a very cold take at first glance, but after the result against New York Red Bulls, I felt a subtle, creeping suspicion about how prepared AUFC was for the level of quality and competition in MLS. It was voiced here and elsewhere that NYRB were a good team and that there was no shame in losing a close game. This match, however, provided a different narrative, and I’m not even talking about the final score. This game showcased the true quality in our side, and especially in two of our DPs, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. Martinez was constantly a threat, and finished his chances clinically en route to his first hat trick for Atlanta United. Almiron provided dynamism all over the field, helping the team transition from defense to attack and scoring two high-quality goals for himself.
Atlanta managed the second half with aplomb.
With AUFC losing a lead against NYRB and Minnesota gaining momentum after scoring in the first half, it was fair to question the mentality of the team and how well the Five Stripes could deal with adversity. They answered those questions in the second half against Minnesota, controlling the game until the referee blew the final whistle. Tata Martino organized the side at HT and likely told them to abandon the deep-lying possession game we saw in the season opener. Atlanta invited pressure late in the first half by trying to keep possession and play passes backward. It just didn’t work in the snowy conditions, and the team was much more willing to play the ball long and forward in the second half. By doing so, the players weren’t turning their backs to goal and could anticipate the play more decisively.
Honestly, Minnesota is lacking in so many areas, it’s difficult to know where to start. Their back four was totally discombobulated against Atlanta, and the linesman even helped the home side on at least one occasion by wrongly flagging Josef Martinez offside when he was in on goal. They weren’t just a step off the pace, they were leaving gaping holes in their back line that Atlanta’s technically adept players could exploit with ease. From the first whistle, the team never appeared to be on the same page. And that’s just where it starts. Maybe the more worrying aspect of the performance, from Minnesota’s perspective, was the collective apathy from the team in the game’s waning moments. Jacob Peterson got his name on the score sheet in added time with one of the easiest headers he’s likely to score this season. Greg Garza assisted with ease from a cross inside the box with no pressure. That’s unacceptable. They need to get things sorted out quickly, or else all the pundits who said “Minnesota isn’t going to be as bad as many think they’ll be” will be very, very wrong.