Atlanta United hosted a very physical reverse fixture with Minnesota United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. We saw a missed red card, an actual red card, a yellow that shouldn’t have been, and misgauged stoppage time.
There were several changes to Atlanta United’s roster. Kenwyne Jones was in at striker, Kyle Reynish at goalkeeper, Tyrone Mears at right back, Kevin Kratz and Julian Gressel in central midfield and Tito Villalba played wide right.
Things were chippy from the start and things got heated in the 30′ when Minnesota’s Collin Martin upended Tito Villalba yards away from the ball (a clear red card). The referee gave a yellow and Tata Martino understandably went crazy on the touchline. That missed call set the tone for the rest of the match.
Minutes later that missed call was followed by a ridiculous yellow given to Tyrone Mears on a 50-50 ball.
In the 48′ Abu Danladi scored Minnesota’s first goal. It was a beautiful left-footed ball from just outside the 18.
Things got worse for United when Kyle Reynish mistimed a tackle on the edge of the box and was shown red. With Atlanta going down a goalkeeper they had to immediately sacrifice Kenwyne Jones to put Alexander Tambakis in the net.
But even down a man and with countless missed calls, none of this fazed the workhorse, Tito Villalba. Just minutes later he fought through the opposing backline and deadlocked the game at 1-1. Julian Gressel followed suit and finessed a beautiful left-footed strike into the top far corner. The assist from Yamil Asad was gorgeous.
The Villalba led Five Stripes put up a heck of a fight the next 37′ while down a man, but nobody showed more grit than Tito himself. He was still challenging 50-50 balls, going full strength into headers, running down through balls, and continuously pressured the keeper. But eight matches in 24 days is a haul, and tired legs started to show.
Just when it looked like Atlanta could pull off the upset and secure a 2nd place spot in the Eastern Conference, Minnesota substitute, Christian Ramirez, put those dreams to bed in the 90′.
So if that wasn’t painful enough, because of the red, the three yellows, and sporadic injuries, there were seven minutes of stoppage time. In the 95′ Minnesota’s Jerome Thiesson curled a lofty ball into the box where Kevin Molino nailed the header to win the match 3-2. The worst part about the Molino header was that he fought through an exhausted Atlanta backline that was left looking.
Minnesota, plain and simple, wanted it more than Atlanta. No doubt the taste in their mouth was still sour from the 6-1 thrashing suffered at the beginning of the season.
My man of the match is Tito Villalba. He was the only player to put out 100% for the full 97 minutes of the match. Surely he was exhausted, beat up, and exasperated with the officiating, but he still created chances and chased down every ball that came his way.
This is not the ideal way to go into the international break but we do need the rest. One thing Tata does not stray from is what works, and what’s been working is playing all of his starters. This isn’t a bad thing but the downside is fatigue and too much fatigue leads to injuries. We went into the match without Miguel “Miggy” Almirón, Brandon Vasquez, or Greg Garza because of injuries and tonight you can add Chris McCann, Garza’s replacement, to that list.
*Photo Courtesy of ATLUTD