ATLANTA – Atlanta United snowed all over Minnesota United’s home opener at TCF Bank Stadium back on March 12, delivering a 6-1 drubbing. Now the Loons have a chance to return the favor in a match at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
They are facing a team that, in six matches at new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is undefeated at 5-0-1, scoring 22 goals and allowing just three. Atlanta has also sold out 14 consecutive matches, averaging nearly 48,000 per match in the club’s new home.
Loons forward Christian Ramirez said there’s “definitely” extra motivation facing the fellow expansion team almost seven months after that bad loss.
“We know a lot of things have changed since then, and we’re on the upward, getting better each time we’re out here,” Ramirez said. “Things have definitely changed, but it’s never forgotten.”
Of the 18-man squad for the Loons from that March game, five players are no longer with the team, four are new additions and only four are still regular starters.
The Loons were able to retain two of those starters — center back Francisco Calvo and midfielder Kevin Molino. Molino, who scored the Loons’ lone goal against Atlanta on a penalty kick, will leave after the game for national team duty. Atlanta wasn’t as lucky. It will be without forward Josef Martinez, the team’s leading scorer with 18 goals, because of national team duty, and Miguel Almiron, who leads the team with 13 assists, because of injury.
Despite this advantage, Loons winger Sam Nicholson, who wasn’t on the team for that first meeting, said he hasn’t heard much increased talk in the locker room about sticking it to Atlanta.
“You’ve got to have that incentive to beat anyone in this league, so we have that most games,” Nicholson said. “Whether it’s going to be more because of Atlanta, I don’t know. But I feel like we should have that for every game anyway. But I totally understand it could be.”
The Loons and Atlanta inherently merit comparison because they joined the league at the same time. But Ramirez said he thinks there’s hasn’t been enough history to establish a rivalry.
“It takes time and battles and wins for each side to build a rivalry,” Ramirez said. “The best one for me right now is the Sporting [Kansas City] one. We’ve see them so many times in the Open Cup. There’s been brawls in preseason. So I think that one right now for me, being here for four years now, that’s the one that I look at as a rival. But certainly, don’t knock anything off where you can build something.”
Ramirez also said he was looking forward to the “electric atmosphere” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which Atlanta United shares with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Loons coach Adrian Heath said it will be a competitive match despite Atlanta already having solidified a playoff spot and the Loons already planning ahead for next season.
“They’ve had an incredible run of late with their home form, but they, obviously, will want to be in a little bit more control of their own playoff destiny in terms of playing at home, et cetera,” Heath said. “So it’s going to be a difficult game for us because they are really good.”