A few weeks ago I asked if Atlanta United were really frauds. I don’t think the team is, the result in Salt Lake City notwithstanding, but they’re close. It seems like the Five Stripes are a successful failure. The attack isn’t working the backline has been bailing them out and United ran off five straight wins, but the thing Atlanta is known for - scoring goals - is not happening. The game against RSL was bad, then Pity Martinez and Franco Escobar came on and the team woke up but still lost. That’s soccer, but it’s getting pretty old.
The story of the season has been about fixture congestion and that’s not about to change. Even with the international break, Tito Villalba, Darlington Nagbe, Brad Guzan, Romario Williams, and Josef Martinez might still be playing with their national teams. Luckily, the team will go into that break with two games against beatable teams at home before that happens. These aren’t really must-win games, but with the East lacking a clear front runner six points would go a long way in cutting that failure suffix off of successful.
The team that exists
After two years of wallowing at the bottom of the Western Conference standings thanks to fielding a roster filled with anonymous NASL players, college graduates, and having a manager who previously led Orlando City to glory and didn’t respect Francisco Calvo enough, Minnesota United is trying something new this year. Let me ask you, have you heard about their new clear bag policy as detailed in this article published
by Minnesota United’s PR team behind a paywall in The Athletic?
In addition to adopting the latest in transparent bag stadium security policies, Minnesota is fielding their first ever MLS roster with Darwin Quintero in attack and Ozzie Alonso in central midfield. The result is that they’re above the playoff line for now and might only allow 50 goals this season. They just beat the very good but sometimes uneven Houston Dynamo 1-0 thanks to a not at all lucky goal and so far the most embarrassing thing to have happened to them this year is losing 2-0 to New England.
The games between Minnesota and Atlanta have always had a strange bend to them - of course there was the 6-1 snow game in which Atlanta United definitively demonstrated that they could play in MLS while Minnesota had Vadim Demidov and would need another two years before putting together a competitive roster despite the fact that there’s not really a good excuse for them, or any other team in MLS, to not compete the way Atlanta did.
Next was the first home loss at MBS when Atlanta’s “B” team fell to the Minnesota All-Stars after a red card to keeper Kyle Reynish and a late goal from the Loons during a match played in an international window.
Finally was last season’s game in which Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez got cold and earned two yellows but not before an own goal by the very highly respected defender who everyone respects a lot and who deserves a lot of respect Francesco Calvo (who we’ll see next weekend with Chicago!). Atlanta bunkered with 10 men and all Minnesota could think to do was fling crosses that were cleared by the Five Stripes for 50 minutes so they lost 1-0.
That last game seemed to unearth simmering animosity between the fanbases, or at least the supporters who are extremely online. It could be summed up as something like this: Minnesota United puts a lot of stock in their HIsToRy which boils down to someone started a team outside of Minneapolis about 20 years ago and every three or so years it looked like it would disappear. Then someone else found a paltry amount of money to sink into it, changed the name and they got to keep existing. That happened about 10 times until the team was bought by Dr. Bronner who took it to MLS. To their credit, the fans have stuck with the team through all that and have built one of the most vibrant supporter cultures in American soccer.
This was probably sitting below the surface since at least before the teams entered MLS when there was a rumor that the Atlanta front office had pressured the league to only allow Atlanta United to enter the league as a United. Clearly, this threatened the existence of the name United so Minnesota fans took to the web to politely express their rage about it while Atlanta fans did everything they could to give the name away so that maybe the team would pick a better one.
Most teams have some kind of trait that defines them - for Minnesota United it is their ability to exist. As someone who is half Midwestener I can say that the team truly embodies the humble Midwestern Protestant Work Ethic. Core to this is the idea that if you work hard and are a good person with good, healthy habits and give everyone you meet a passive aggressive comment - known as being Minnesota Nice, or MN Nice for short - that you’ll be assured of an existence. Minnesota may not win, their teamwork may result in giving up 70 goals a season, but they exist and you have to respect that, they’re the Brian Spilner of soccer teams.
k i c k o f f— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) May 26, 2019
let's go get it done, fellas pic.twitter.com/MYfQf30LCv
Juxtaposing Minnesota in just about every way imaginable is Atlanta United. The Five Stripes came into the league, bought good players, had the best draft class in MLS history in 2017, sold out the college football stadium they started the franchise in every week, managed not to embarrass themselves, and did so in the flashiest, most attention grabbing way possible in a market that everyone said wouldn’t support a soccer team. Minnesota exists and wants respect for their humble soccering despite having done very little to earn it aside from nominally working hard while Atlanta wants the attention, deserves it and makes a spectacle out of everything.
The cities themselves are also different. Atlanta is dynamic, resilient, resourceful, global and forward looking. Minneapolis-St. Paul, despite being two cities, sits atop the United States and seems to take its biggest cultural influences from Canada while hoping that winter ends before July.
It all culminated before the MLS Cup Final when a Loons supporter penned this missive about how Atlanta’s Golden Spike pre-game tradition isn’t metal enough for someone whose team is so unrelentingly hardcore that they play
a song by noted church burning, Satan worshiping, sword wielding cannibals Mayhem Wonderwall when they happen to win at home. Short of performing a Blood Eagle on an opponent after a win, nothing says soul shattering victory louder than Wonderwall. My great grandfather was metal enough to lose an arm working on the railroad in Coweta County as a teenager and I like to think that Atlanta United got revenge on Jerry Lundegaard’s article on his behalf by winning MLS Cup in their second season - in as much time Minnesota United achieved the wondrous accomplishment existing and giving up a total of 141 goals.
In short, bless their hearts.
Losing and winning ugly on the way to being 5 points out of first?
Somehow.... despite not scoring any goals, lacking an identifiable style and with one designated player winning the U-20 World Cup all by himself and another one still learning how to play soccer in MLS... somehow... Atlanta United is 5 points out of first in the East with a game or two in hand on the teams above them in the table. How bad is the East right now that this is possible?
That’s another story, for now the important thing is that the attack isn’t working and it is getting aggravating watching the most exciting team in MLS from 2018 play like this. I could almost copy and paste what I wrote last week about Josef’s strengths not being drifting into midfield to look for the ball and help build up the attack when what he’s best at is getting a ball played to him in behind defenders and then doing everything short of causing the violent heat death of the universe to score 34 goals in a season. But Frank de Boer is going to ride or die, to the tune of scoring 14 goals in 13 games, with this strategy.
It’s bad and we’re just going to have to keep cringing our way through games until he pulls out a magic box with the answer in it and it starts working or he figures something else out.
I actually know what’s going to happen this week
Unlike most weeks when I post a meme and moan about how I don’t know what’s going to happen and say something hackneyed about it either or working for Atlanta or not after writing 1400 words - I know exactly what’s going to happen in this match: something weird, like Brek Shea hat trick weird. These teams are incapable of playing a normal soccer game against one another. All that stuff I said about the attack and Minnesota being not embarrassing and bad for the league anymore, actually? Forget it. None of that will have an effect on the outcome of the game. I pulled Atlanta’s horoscope and it doesn’t look good:
An unexpected discovery this week will make all your current problems feel small. Specifically, the discovery that an extinction-level event happens on Earth with some regularity at least once every 50 million years, and our planet is currently overdue.
Somehow though, when it’s all over and the mass extinction event has has turned every living creature into a fossil, Minnesota United will still exist, just be sure to bring a clear bag with you when you watch them play.