ATLANTA - After Kevin Molino scored his game-winning header vs. Atlanta on Tuesday night in stoppage time, he ran toward Minnesota United’s bench to celebrate. All teammate Abu Danladi could do was bounce up and down on the edge of the group hug.
“I couldn’t really walk. I was just hopping on one leg,” said Danladi, who came off early in the second half with a leg injury. “It was just, like, a bunch of people came in. Molino came in. And people were just bumping into me. I was trying to find my balance.
“But it was all excitement, you know. What a great finish to the game.”
The Loons (10-16-5, ninth in the West) became the first team to beat Atlanta United FC (15-9-8, third in the East) at its new Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the 3-2 triumph that also kept their slim playoff chances alive. It was a bit of sweet revenge for the Loons to tarnish Atlanta’s record in front of 43,185 fans when Atlanta dashed the Loons’ home opener 6-1 back in March.
Molino said memories of that bad loss were always in the back of his and his teammates’ minds.
“We wanted to win the game so bad because when you look at early on in the season how much they beat us at home, that was actual drive for us,” Molino said. “To go there and push, push, keep pushing until we can’t push no more and come away with three points.”
The Loons certainly had to embody that mind-set in a topsy-turvy match that saw some fights, some goals and even a red card.
Danladi scored his fifth goal in seven matches in the 48th minute with a top-corner strike for a 1-0 lead. He exited the game about 10 minutes later after Atlanta third-choice goalkeeper Kyle Reynish came out of the box and caught Danladi in the left leg with a hard challenge, earning a red card.
Even though Atlanta was a man down and on its fourth-choice keeper, it still tied it up in the 67th minute with a top-of-the-box goal from midfielder Hector Villalba. And then five minutes later, midfielder Julian Gressel scored the go-ahead.
But the Loons made several attacking substitutions that ultimately won the match. Off a corner kick in the 90th minute, the Loons sneaked in a goal that deflected off Christian Ramirez, who had replaced Danladi. And with about a minute left in seven minutes of stoppage time, Molino flicked in his header.
Danladi called this game the “top one” of the season. Molino said it will “go down as one of the best.” Coach Adrian Heath termed it “certainly the most exciting.”
“When I look at this season, it has been a learning process from the beginning to now,” Molino said. “We keep building and building each and every time. And coming away with three points in such a difficult place to play? Some of the top teams in the league can’t even come in here and come away with a tie.
“You have to give credit to the guys, each and every one of them.”