With five starters missing and three players making their MLS debuts this past Saturday at the New York Red Bulls, maybe the result wasn't so surprising for Minnesota United.

In fact, a year ago when the team was without 10 players in this fourth match of the season when national team call-ups pile up with any injuries and suspensions, the Loons lost in a 5-2 blowout. So 3-0 this time around was a bit of an improvement.

Not that that's any consolation to the Loons, who have preached a steady mantra of "this is a different year" since embarking on their second campaign.

"Ninety minutes like this tonight is disappointing," winger Ethan Finlay said on the broadcast Saturday, "because I thought we had left this in 2017."

United's play against the Red Bulls, also missing four players, was reminiscent of yore: an offense that couldn't find any momentum coupled with a leaky defense. The Loons did have to field an entirely new back line because of the absences, along with a different holding midfielder in front. So the offense had to be a little more aware of its defensive duties.

But coach Adrian Heath said the use of new personnel — which included starting two rookie defenders and subbing in a new winger in the second half — wasn't really an acceptable excuse.

"I would like to say [it changed the game] a lot, but I've got to be honest," Heath told reporters after the game. "I thought that they wanted to win the game more than us."

Heath said there weren't many positives to take from the game, with the biggest issue being individual performance and effort. The players didn't seem to have the extra verve to fight for the 50-50 or second-chance balls. And Heath said that has given him a lot of "food for thought" when thinking about the lineup for this coming match Saturday night against Atlanta United because there are many players who have been waiting for an opportunity, and might show a little more enthusiasm should they get the nod.

But Heath did emphasize that the play of rookies Carter Manley and Wyatt Omsberg was not his concern, and they will be better for this top-level experience.

It would be easy to brush off this result as a blip on United's early season radar, considering the team is still 2-2 and wasn't at full strength Saturday. But Heath wasn't buying that postgame.

And not to keep comparing this season to 2017, but the last time Atlanta came to TCF Bank Stadium, it won 6-1. The Loons did get a 3-2 victory at Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But United will look to make sure history doesn't repeat itself this weekend.

"Getting them back at their place late last year was great for us," Finlay said of Atlanta on the same broadcast, "but it's 2018. We have different aspirations. We expect to go home and win against whomever we're playing. We can't put on a performance like we did [Saturday] here at home."