Winning on the road in MLS takes determination and grit. That’s just what Atlanta United showed Saturday, fighting through injuries, a red card and brutal wintry conditions to pull off a gutsy 1-0 win over Minnesota United.
Head Coach Tata Martino was forced to shuffle his lineup with Franco Escobar ruled out with injury. The gaffer opted for Chris McCann in the three-man back line, with Greg Garza at left wingback. The full starting lineup: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro González Pirez (RCB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
With temperatures dropping into the low 20’s by kickoff, the squad could have been forgiven for taking a moment to thaw out and get into the game. But they got a dream start just three minutes on the clock. A corner kick was directed on goal but only to Tito Villalba, who leapt into the air to head the ball at goal. The ball smacked off the crossbar but deflected into Minnesota’s Francisco Calvo and dribbled into the net for the opening goal.
With Atlanta United piling on the pressure for a second, the turning point in the match came just before the halftime whistle. Leandro González Pirez was booked with his second yellow card of the match for running into a Minnesota United player in the 36th minute, leaving ATL UTD with 10 man and a tough 55 minutes to play.
But good teams stand up under adversity, and Atlanta United did just that as the fierce winds brought the wind-chill down close to 0 degrees. The team bunkered down and was relentless with their pressure. And when Jeff Larentowicz was forced off with injury, it was the next man up as Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, who was making his MLS debut, brought tenacity to the midfield right on cue.
After a couple clutch saves from Brad Guzan in the Atlanta United net, the team held on through seven minutes of stoppage time for an impressive road win. It wasn’t the free-flowing Atlanta United style fans see every week, but it was a victory just as impressive as any multi-goal display.
The team now returns to Atlanta to the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they will face LAFC in front of the red, black and gold army next weekend. With three-straight wins in their pocket, the Five Stripes will look to ride that momentum against a team that just suffered their first loss of the season. Tickets are still available for that match, make sure you’ve reserved yours