ATLANTA – Tata Martino’s Atlanta United squad will face its first Major League Soccer road test on Sunday in the challenging environment of TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Minnesota United’s home opener, and the pent-up excitement of their fans, would be tough to overcome on its own, but the team will also have to face one of the coldest MLS games on record. Current projections have the temperature at kickoff at 26 degrees with a chance of snow.
Atlanta will also be without defensive midfielder Carlos Carmona, who was red-carded late in last week’s 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. His one-game suspension will be served on Sunday. During Thursday’s press conference, Martino said that it was likely that Jeff Larentowicz would see action on Sunday, presumably replacing Carmona.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who had a strong MLS debut at center back before leaving with an injury in the 81st minute, has been training all week and will be available on Sunday.
Minnesota will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 5-1 loss in Portland in its MLS debut. While the Loons played better than the scoreline might indicate, the team was not satisfied with its performance. Expectations are that coach Adrian Heath will make some changes in the team’s lineup and shape. Forward Christian Ramirez could be in line to start after a strong substitute performance that saw him score Minnesota’s only goal. Ramirez, Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino form a strong attacking trio that can give the opposition nightmares.
Some keys to the game:
- Stretching the game by using the wings was something Atlanta did well against the Red Bulls. It was something that Minnesota struggled to defend against Portland.
- All of the Timbers’ goals came through attacking Minnesota’s right side. After a strong opener, Yamil Asad and Greg Garza could be in line for an even more prominent role this week.
- Tito Villalba had a limited impact on the New York game. It terms of pure speed, he has a great matchup on Sunday against Minnesota’s Justin Davis. Villalba could get going in this game.
- Atlanta will have to keep up with Minnesota’s movement off the ball. Daniel Royer was very effective for the Red Bulls in this area in the second half last week, finding space in between Atlanta’s backline and midfield. Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino have this ability for Minnesota.
- Minnesota’s Christian Ramirez should start at forward and he is one of the newcomers to MLS to watch in 2017. The 26-year-old has played for them in the NASL (Division 2) for the last three years, scoring 43 goals in 82 games. He scored their first MLS goal last week. He is a complete forward who can hold the ball up to bring teammates into the play, or he can score himself. Atlanta needs to deny service into Ramirez as often as possible on Sunday.
Adam Schick and I will have the call for you on Sunday afternoon, kickoff is scheduled for just after 5 p.m. ET.