In a back-and-forth affair at Silverback Park, Minnesota United FC erased a halftime deficit to claim all three points in its first road test of the season. Simone Bracalello had a goal and an assist for Minnesota, who defeated the Atlanta Silverbacks 3-2 Saturday night to move into a share of first place in the North American Soccer League.
“At awkward times, we gave up tough goals. They were off set pieces, off tough calls that tend to go against you when you play away,” Minnesota head coach Manny Lagos said. “We learned a lot about ourselves. We can do better in some areas, but we fought and battled, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”
Atlanta led 2-1 at halftime after a Milton Blanco free kick and Ruben Luna penalty. Even with the lead, Atlanta head coach Brian Haynes was disappointed after allowing Minnesota to dictate play in the first half, and despite challenging his team at halftime to establish its own terms, it was Minnesota that came out on the front foot, scoring twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half to turn the game on its head.
“We lost the momentum and we gave into some silly stuff that was going on out there,” Haynes said after the game. “I didn’t think we came out with the spirit and the fight. That’s down to me, and I’ll take the blame for it. We have to be prepared for any kind of a fight.”
Minnesota midfielder Miguel Ibarra nearly gave United the lead in the 10th minute after crashing a shot off the crossbar. A strong cutback gave the winger space to shoot, only to see his left-footed shot carom away after beating Atlanta goalkeeper Joe Nasco.
A free kick from Blanco gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute. Pedro Mendes drew a free kick at the top of the penalty box, which Blanco drove low around the wall. Minnesota goalkeeper Daryl Sattler got a hand to the ball cut couldn’t redirect it away from the net as Minnesota conceded a goal for the first time this season.
It didn’t take long to draw level, as Kallman headed home at the near post in the 23rd minute. The United right back met Bracalello’s corner at the near post, heading the ball through traffic and off Atlanta keeper Joe Nasco’s hands.
Atlanta re-took the lead almost instantly with its first attack following Minnesota’s equalizer. Sattler did well to save a close-range Borfor Carr shot, but the rebound fell for Carr to cross for Mendes, whose header struck Aaron Pitchkolan’s hand, giving the referee little choice but to point to the spot. Ruben Luna sent Daryl Sattler the wrong way for his third goal in two games to put Atlanta back up 2-1.
Bracalello had a golden opportunity in the 37th minute with a nearly identical free kick to Blanco’s opener. Left back Justin Davis drew the foul at the top of the penalty area on a foray forward, but Bracalello’s free kick swerved just wide and into the outside netting as he looked to beat Nasco to the near post. A minute later, Ibarra made space for himself again before curling a right-footed shot wide of Nasco’s far post. Ibarra did better with his next shot, a 25-yard right-footed drive that Nasco saved easily.
Minnesota continued the pressure early in the second half and found their reward in the 54th minute. Atlanta back was whistled for a handball near the top of the penalty box, and Bracalello made no mistake from the spot, slamming the ball under Nasco’s hand and into the side netting to make it 2-2 with his second goal in as many games.
Minnesota continued to press, and Pitchkolan atoned for conceding a penalty with his first goal in Minnesota colors as United continued to find results from set pieces. Center back Connor Tobin headed a Lucas Rodriguez corner down at the top of the six-yard box, and Pitchkolan reacted fastest to turn the ball into the net from just feet away to make it 3-2.
A composed defensive performance in the second half made the lead stand up, as Minnesota dealt well with the slick artificial surface at Silverback Park as a light rain descended. The defensive line of Justin Davis, Kyle Altman, Tobin and Kallman kept Atlanta’s speed out wide and closed space well to block shots when needed, keeping the pressure off Sattler in goal.
With the win, Minnesota moved into a three-way share of first place in the North American Soccer League with seven points from two wins and a draw. Minnesota returns to Minneapolis next Saturday night to take on fellow league leaders the Carolina RailHawks in a 7 p.m. showdown at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.Game Summary
ATL: Milton Blanco, 17
MIN: Brian Kallman (Simone Bracalello), 23
ATL: Ruben Luna (penalty), 26
MIN: Simone Bracalello (penalty), 54
MIN: Aaron Pitchkolan (Connor Tobin), 61
MIN: Simone Bracalello, caution, 43
MIN: Brian Kallman, caution, 45+
ATL: Pedro Mendes, caution, 81
Starting XI: GK Daryl Sattler; D Justin Davis, Kyle Altman (captain), Connor Tobin, Brian Kallman; M Lucas Rodriguez (Etienne Barbara 72), Michael Reed, Aaron Pitchkolan, Miguel Ibarra; F Simone Bracalello (Kentaro Takada 83), Pablo Campos
Shots 16, Shots on goal 5, Saves 2, Fouls 8, Corner kicks 7, Offside 1
Starting XI: GK Joe Nasco; D Mark Bloom, Martyn Lancaster, Beto Navarro, Mike Randolph; M Milton Blanco, Borfor Carr (Horace James 62), Richie Menjivar; F Danny Barrera (Pablo Cruz 84), Ruben Luna (Brad Stisser 68), Pedro Mendes
Shots 15, Shots on goal 4, Saves 2, Fouls 7, Corner kicks 5, Offsides 3
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