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Minnesota United started Saturday night's 2-1 victory at Atlanta United with what's become a pretty common look for them in recent weeks: a 5-2-3 when the Loons have the ball, but a 5-4-1 when they are defending, packing players into the midfield to prevent the other team from getting inside.

It's "forcing teams to play around us instead of inside us," in the words of goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair from earlier in the week. "We know how hurtful it can be when teams play inside the shape."

It's a look based on pragmatism, especially on the road — and especially against a team that wants to get the ball to attacking maestro Thiago Almada and let him pass it around.

"You really have a sense of the game that you will really have to enjoy the defensive element, and you will really have to grind, and we did," coach Eric Ramsay said. "I don't think I had any expectation that we would come here and dominate the ball, because that is what they do best."

The Loons' offensive plan, especially in the first half, wasn't going to win any awards for one-touch passing. For the most part, when they won the ball, they tried to get it down the field as fast as possible — and if that meant hoofing long balls at striker Tani Oluwaseyi, then so be it.

"We didn't want to give anything cheap away to the opposition here," Ramsay said. "They're a good-pressing team, they're very well-organized, very disciplined. They've got a really good change of pace and rhythm when they press. We wanted to make sure that we, in the opening stages, took that element of the game away from them."

So does that mean that it's all about old-school, route-one soccer on the road? For Ramsay, it had more to do with the opposition, not any fundamental commitment to one way of playing away.

"There will be points where we'll build in a much cleaner way," he said, "but there will also be moments where we recognize the game for what it is, meet the conditions that were brought in front of you, and make sure that in the early stages of the game when you take away one fundamental element of which they want to play."

Tactics-Free Zone

By the end of games, though, the result becomes less about any tactical innovations and more about just grinding away. It's what seasoned MLS analysts refer to as the Tactics-Free Zone.

"It's about keeping that belief that even though we are suffering, we are going to get these three points, and this defensive effort we are putting in is going to work out," Loons defender DJ Taylor said.

After Atlanta scored in the 82nd minute, what had seemed like an easy victory to close out turned into a scramble. The Loons defended corner after corner, four in a row at one point, and seemingly spent 10 minutes hemmed into their own end — before finally managing to see out the last few moments with a bit less panic.

Ramsay credited the work of his substitutes, who came on and did the hard work of pressuring the ball. But he also said that, despite what felt like a scramble, it actually wasn't as bad as it looked.

"I think largely we were relatively comfortable," he said. "I would suggest it's probably one of those when you look back, it's more comfortable than what might have appeared on the touch-line in the heat of the moment."

Loons fans, who had to sit through the final 15 minutes, might disagree.

Lod's status unclear

Robin Lod left the game at halftime, replaced by Carlos Harvey in midfield. Though Ramsay has often made tactical moves at halftime, he said this one was injury-related.

Ramsay described the injury as a "slight niggle,' adding; "We wanted to be really cautious with Robin, obviously he's a really important player and we didn't want to put him in a position where seemingly something fairly minor [got worse] in the second half."