Soccer is popularly known as The Beautiful Game. Whether that moniker is being used lovingly by hardcore fans or mockingly by smug SportsCenter anchors, it’s one that rings true for the most part. The flow of the game and interchanging of 22 players around the field is usually a sight to behold. At other times we’re forced to suffer through downright awful soccer games.
That’s exactly what Atlanta United and Minnesota United produced this past Saturday. The game, in which Atlanta eked out gritty and resilient 1-0 win in the blistering cold, was inarguably a terrible contest to watch. The freezing conditions and a first half red card to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez led to Tata Martino smashing left on his D-pad and parking a giant peach bus in front of Brad Guzan. This is perhaps the first time in his Atlanta United tenure that he’s been forced to pull out this ‘protect the lead at all costs’ tactic.
With their backs to the wall, Atlanta conceded 71 percent possession in total and rarely passed the midfield line in the second half. It was painful to watch for fans who are used to seeing the Five Stripes be the aggressors. However, despite the lopsided field, Atlanta somehow hung on to the 1-0 lead through eight minutes of second half stoppage time to grind out the result and three points. It was a complete 180 degree turn from what we usually expect to see from this exciting team and perhaps it was a sign that they are maturing.
Atlanta United earned a reputation in its inaugural season for being a high-flying attacking team, willing to throw numbers forward at the detriment of their team shape. Last season we saw them wilt several times in tough conditions away from home, especially early in the season.
To encounter adversity and tough playing conditions away from home and still manage to find a way to win is a side of this team we haven’t seen before. If Atlanta can start winning these types of games that they shouldn’t realistically win, they’ll truly become a top team in the league.
The MLS season is long and tiring. The best teams in the league have the mentality to grind out wins when things aren’t going their way. This was perhaps the ultimate downfall for Atlanta last season throughout its campaign. Winning ugly in Minnesota doesn’t prove that Tata Martino’s side has cracked the code to win every difficult match they’ll come up against. But, it is a great sign that they are learning to find ways to get results. This bodes very well for the long run to the playoffs.