Three goals by Josef Martinez and two by Miguel Almiron lifted Atlanta United to a 6-1 win over Minnesota United on Sunday in a game that may be remembered more for the weather than the fact that the team picked up its first three points during its inaugural season.
Weather? Snow. Lots and lots of snow, which resulted in a few unusual actions to keep the game going.
Snowfall started falling around 2:30 p.m. and picked up as the kickoff drew closer. By the start of the game, the temperature was 19 degrees.
Still, more than 35,000 people convened to TCF Bank Stadium to watch the league’s two newest teams play … in the snow.
“I was a little worried about learning how those games go because I’ve never coached a game in the snow before,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “Above all, in the second half, I think we played a simple game, a serious game and avoided any problems.”
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Here are five observations from the game … and snow:
Snow. It was cold. Historically cold because MLS had to do something it has rarely, if ever, had to do.
Because of the conditions, referee Ismail Elfath decided to use the orange soccer ball, instead of the normal white ball, to aid visibility. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, on hand for the game, said it was just the second time the league has ever used the orange ball.
“This one will be in either the Minnesota sports hall of fame or the soccer hall of fame,” Garber said. “It’s kind of nice. I think the character of this community needed a game like this. It will be remembered forever as the first game in this stadium with 35,000 thousand people in the snow.”
They also pulled the players off the field in the 23rd minutelso that groundskeepers could snow-blow the penalty-box lines to make them visible again. Garber said he believes it’s the first time the blowers had to be used.
Garber said the league has a heat-and-humidity index that it uses for games in the summer when deciding if contests should be postponed. But the league doesn’t have something similar for cold temperatures, but it’s something that will be looked at during the offseason. The league postponed one game during the weekend — Orlando at New England — because of a low wind chill. It was the first game in league history to be postponed because of cold temperatures.
The starting 11: Martino made just one change, which was necessary, to the starting 11 from last week’s opener against New York Red Bulls. The change was inserting Jeff Larentowicz at holding midfielder in place of Carlos Carmona, who was suspended for the game after receiving a red card against Red Bulls.
The first, third and fifth goals: Martinez opened the scoring in the third minute, driving down the left side after a pass from Almiron. Martinez picked up the ball and had only goalkeeper John Alvbage to beat. Martinez easily slid the shot into the far corner.
The score was the result of a counter-attack after Atlanta United regained possession just before midfield. It was Martinez’s first goal this season.
Atlanta United scored a goal in each of its preseason games in less than 10 minutes.
Martinez added his second in the 27th minute off a pass from Yamil Asad. Again, Minnesota United turned the ball over in its half. Atlanta United needed just two passes to send Martinez between two defenders and at the goal.
Asad’s pass was a clever one-touch pop into space that Martinez ran down.
Martinez’s third score came in the 75th minute when he outraced three defenders and rounded the goalkeeper to convert on an empty net. Hector Villalba was credited with the assist.
“It’s always nice to score, even more so when it’s three, but the most important thing is that the team got the win tonight and it feels really good to get the first in in team history,” he said, still shivering 15 minutes after the game.
The second and fourth goals. Almiron made it 2-0 in the 13th minute with a left-footed shot into the upper left corner. Julian Gressel split two lines of the defense to find Almiron, who was left unmarked at the top of the penalty box.
It was Almiron’s first goal this season.
Almiron added a second with a wicked left-footed volley from 19 yards out in the 52nd minute. Atlanta United counter-attacked off a ricochet at midfield. Villalba picked up on the wing and sent in a cross that Minnesota United failed to properly clear. The ball bounced to Almiron standing near the middle of the top of the penalty box. He fired his volley into the upper right corner.
“No, no no,” Almiron said when asked if he had ever played in conditions like that. “It was the first time. Historic.”
Minnesota United’s goal: The Loons pulled to within a goal in the 30th minute on a penalty kick by Kevin Molino. The kick was the result of one-legged, lunging tackle by Larentowicz in the penalty box.
Closing out the game. After giving up two goals in the final 15 minutes of last week’s loss to the New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United worked during training on finishing games.
Ahead 5-1 with 15 minutes left, Atlanta United had no worries about the Loons completing a rally.