Atlanta United (15-8-8) will look to extend their unbeaten streak at home and continue their push for a first-round bye in the playoffs as they host Minnesota United (9-16-5) on Tuesday. It’s a match with major playoff implications. Atlanta is gunning for a top two seed, while Minnesota is hoping to sneak above the red line and join ATL UTD as the second expansion team to qualify for playoffs since 2009.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by Home Depot:
1) Mark Molino
Arguably Minnesota’s most important piece going forward is 27-year-old midfielder Kevin Molino. The Trinidad & Tobago international joined the expansion side in the offseason from Orlando City where the crafty playmaker notched 11 goals and eight assists in 2016. Playing under the Loons head coach Adrian Heath for five seasons in Orlando, Molino has always been in the plans to be their go-to creator and so far, he hasn’t disappointed. With pace, creativity, strength, and elusiveness, Molino has contributed six goals and a team-high eight assists this season, and always poses a threat no matter what situation the Loons may find themselves in.
2) Isolate Ibson
In addition to locking down Molino, Atlanta will need to shut down another key midfield component: Minnesota’s number seven, Ibson. The central midfielder is known for his ability to maintain possession, feed the front men and find the penetrating pass which has him 2nd on the assist chart for his side. The Brazilian often leads his team in touches and will be looking to get on the ball as much as possible on Tuesday. If Atlanta can cut off the supply to the man in the middle, the Loons will have a hard time keeping a rhythm. Anything to limit the touches for Minnesota’s lethal front man and leading scorer, Christian Ramirez, will go a long way in preserving Atlanta’s clean sheet streak.
3) Open the Scoring
Atlanta United are enjoying quite the homecoming inside the friendly walls of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Through six games in the newly-built venue, Atlanta are unbeaten and have outscored their opponents 22-3 over the course of the run. The only match they didn’t record a clean sheet was also the only time they haven’t taken all three points: their match against Orlando City. The visitors were able to get on the score sheet first and forced ATL UTD to claw their way back multiple times to earn a 3-3 draw. If the home side can hit the net first on Tuesday, Minnesota will have a hard time fighting back against a team that has a history of opening the floodgates with a crowd of over 42,000 Atlanta faithful rocking the stands.
How to follow
You can catch all the action from Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. EST, with the match broadcast on FOX Sports South or via Fox Sports GO. Click here for all details on how to follow the match.