Now, they find themselves fighting to earn their first-ever U.S. Open Cup title, when the two clubs meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 27.
Minnesota didn’t purchase a Designated Player until their second season in MLS, while Atlanta signed three prior to the start of the teams' debut 2017 season. After three seasons, Atlanta had signed two players for over $10 million apiece, whereas Minnesota’s transfer fees are paid on a tighter budget.
The comparisons between the clubs' early MLS histories may persist ahead of the final, but Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath says he’s not reading much into it, with the Loons in the midst of a vastly improved 2019 campaign that has seen them emerge as a Western Conference playoff contender.
“It’s nice when you spend $70 million, or whatever it is, on your team because you don’t have to pay for a stadium,” Heath said.
The clubs meeting in the final is not necessarily a surprise, seeing as both teams reside in second place in their respective conferences. For Heath, an Open Cup final berth serves as proof the club is “moving in the right direction.”
“I actually think that we’ve made unbelievable progress,” Heath said.
For the Loons, it’s about keeping up the momentum they’ve established throughout their run in the tournament, coming off a hard-fought 2-1 semifinal victory over the Portland Timbers at Allianz Field on Wednesday.
“We’re riding high right now, and we’re just going to try to continue to keep it going,” said striker Mason Toye, who scored the game-winning goal in that semifinal matchup. “We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing – working hard in training and working hard in the games, and hopefully the results keep going our way.”
The Loons have been hot in league play, too, riding a streak of seven straight matches without a loss dating back to June 29.
“We have to play like we did today, game by game,” midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said. “We don’t worry about nothing on the table, nothing, we try to do our best every time we step on the field. We don’t care what other people say about us – we have to play our game and do the best for us and play for us.”
Before Minnesota head to Atlanta for the final, they first must play four league matches, with three of them coming against Western Conference opponents.
Earlier in the week, Heath mentioned that “the next 20 days are going to be massive for the club” with the Loons having an opportunity to climb up the table in the Western Conference standings and claim an Open Cup title that would represent the first major trophy in their MLS era.