Minnesota United’s outcome against Atlanta United was hinging on a potential Loons’ equalizer in the 74th minute Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After Atlanta’s Franco Escobar scored in the 23rd minute, the Loons had a nearly game-tying goal not further reviewed by the officiating crew in Atlanta. Michael Boxall had a shot denied by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Angelo Rodriguez had a rebound denied and his second attempt made its way mostly over the goal line.
But the video-assistant referee didn’t have the main official consult with a closer look to see if the entire ball went over the line, the necessary criteria for it to be a goal.
United coach Adrian Heath said he and the coaching staff couldn’t tell if it was a goal or not from their vantage point on the bench. “But certainly you would think it would be close enough for them to have another look at it,” he said. “So obviously that is a bit of a disappointment. That would have made it 1-1. Goals change games, I always say that.”
Atlanta striker Josef Martinez, the 2018 Golden Boot winner, made it a moot point in the end with two late goals in a 3-0 win between 2017 expansion clubs. He sealed the game with a breakaway goal in the 92nd minute and another one in the 94th to end to the defending MLS Cup champions’ two-game losing streak.
The first half difference maker was Escobar, who had plenty of room to work after center back Ike Opara’s failed clearance and left wingback Miguel Ibarra pinched a bit too tight to stop a run into the box. Escobar had granted time and space to beat Vito Mannone for his second goal in 32 games with Atlanta.
Minnesota shoutout streak ended after 251 minutes after originating in a 2-0 loss to Chicago on May 11.
Minnesota started three center backs — its recent pair of Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman, along with the starting return of Ike Opara. Their main task was keeping Martinez off the scoresheet; they did so until the last moments.
“The 3-nil scoreline certainly flatters them,” Heath said.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has scored only four goals in the last seven games. Heath sought to jumpstart the attack with Abu Danladi making his first start in five games, while regular striker Angelo Rodriguez was dropped to the bench.
“Because of the way we were going to set up, we knew we would be sort of in a defensive block mainly in our own half, and we just thought if we could get the ball into Darwin, and we can use Abu’s pace,” Heath explained. “He has proved against them in the past, that he’s been a decent weapon for us.”
After scoring a highlight-reel strike in their game in Atlanta in 2017, Danladi didn’t manage a shot in 64 minutes Wednesday was subbed out for Mason Toye. Six minutes later, Rodriguez came on for Darwin Quintero, who now hasn’t scored in the last 452 minutes.
Some of Heath’s substitutions were because Danladi was on a yellow card and he’s planning for Sunday’s home game against the Philadelphia Union.