2. Do you sense any hangover from last week’s loss to Portland?
No, if anything, Minnesota is ready to put that all behind it. While the score line was pretty ugly, the match wasn’t actually as lopsided as 5-1 made it seem. And the Loons showed some good parts, like possession, but also some poor aspects, like defensive marking and offensive creativity. For a first match, though, playing at possibly the toughest atmosphere in the league, there were moments in the second half where Minnesota didn’t look out of place at all. That being said, there are for sure things to work on against Atlanta. And recording that historic first MLS win in the home opener is a major priority for Minnesota.
3. What will be the expected crowd size on Sunday?
The team had sold more than 32,000 tickets as of Wednesday and is expecting to eclipse 35,000 for attendance on Sunday.
4. What is the matchup to watch?
It’s going to be really interesting to see how Minnesota’s back four handles Atlanta’s top four. The quick attacking power of those three DPs, plus goal-scorer Asad, is going to be a lot for the Loons. But the defense does have the experience of dealing with another strong attacking core in Portland already. The Loons didn’t look the best against Portland, with the fullbacks struggling and the center-backs scrambling to cover. But if Heath deems new arrival Jerome Thiesson fit enough to start at right-back, that should bring some much-needed support.
5. Has the city embraced the team? What examples have you seen?
I think the home opener will actually do a lot to answer this question, with what the turnout is and how involved the crowd becomes. Listen, Minnesota only had, like, six months since officially joining the league in August to figure everything out, from finding a coach to building a roster to selling season tickets. It was a lot to do in not a lot of time. So the club probably wishes it had some more time to do community outreach and such to bring in new fans ahead of this first MLS season. The die-hard supporters are for sure on board. And I think anyone that was even just a casual soccer fan is probably excited to check out this top-league team. But Minneapolis-St. Paul is a major sports market with five other professional franchises and a Division I college. So it might take some time. But with a new stadium probably ready in time for the 2019 season, that might bring a second-wind for the team as well. And just since I joined the Star Tribune as its soccer writer in January, I’ve fielded a ton of questions from new fans eager to learn the ins-and-outs of the sport. So that’s all a good sign.