Like Orlando City and New York City FC before them, Minnesota United and Atlanta United will be forever linked because each entered MLS as an expansion franchise in 2017, even if they took divergent paths once there.
Bankrolled by owner and Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, Atlanta spent lavishly on playmakers and goal scorers from the beginning. It defeated Minnesota 6-1 in the snow in the Loons’ first MLS home game at TCF Bank Stadium. Atlanta reached the playoffs that first season and, a year later, won the MLS Cup last December.
The Loons took a more measured course. They save much of their bigger player spending for this third MLS season and the awaited opening of $250 million Allianz Field.
Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup of the two teams, Atlanta is fifth in the Eastern Conference, with 20 points and a 6-5-2 record. Minnesota United is fifth in the Western Conference, with 21 points and a 6-4-3 record.
Loons coach Adrian Heath deems the game at Atlanta — the sides’ fourth meeting — more meaningful than many because of that shared history.
“It does to me a little bit,” he said.
Heath was Orlando City’s coach when it and NYCFC entered MLS together in 2015.
“They always had a little bit of a thing going,” Heath said.
His Loons have been compared to an Atlanta United team to which few MLS teams can compare in their first two seasons.
“I was always amazed that we got compared with Atlanta when you consider we came in completely different ways,” Heath said. “We got killed the first year and it was somewhat justified, but then they compared us with the expansion team that spent 30 million quid [British pounds] on their forwards. I’m like, really?”
Atlanta paid $8 million in December 2016 to acquire Miguel Almiron from an Argentine team. Four months later it paid about $5 million for Josef Martinez from an Italian team. Before its second season, it paid $15 million for Ezequiel Barco from a different team in Argentina.
After it won the 2018 MLS Cup, Atlanta swapped high-priced midfielders. It transferred Almiron to Newcastle United in England’s Premier League for an MLS record $26 million and went back to Argentina to acquire Pity Martinez for a $14 million transfer fee.
Now with Minnesota and Atlanta each in its third MLS season, both Uniteds are positioned about the same in their respective divisions. Atlanta started its season 0-2-2, then recorded five consecutive shutouts — all victories — from late April until mid-May. It has lost its past two games, both on the road.
“We’re here in the same boat at this moment in time,” Heath said. “But we’ve done all right against them, actually. I know that sounds crazy.”
After the embarrassing home-opener loss in only its second MLS game, Minnesota United won 3-2 at Atlanta that October with two goals at game’s end. Christian Ramirez tied the score in the 90th minute, and midfielder Kevin Molino scored the winner in extra time.
Atlanta won the only game between the teams last season, 1-0 at TCF Bank Stadium in March.
“That first one, we put that one down to an awful lot of things,” Heath said. “The game after that, we’ve been there and won. At home [last season], we were well in the game. I actually think we match up quite well with them.”
Molino, Metanire out
Molino didn’t train with his team on Tuesday and will miss his second consecutive game (hamstring injury). So, too, will star right back Romain Metanire, who is suspended after he received his fifth yellow card this season late in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Houston. Defender Eric Miller trained Tuesday and will be available for selection, Heath said.