On the road again: Thunder battles Atlanta on national TV

class=img_thumbleft>The mighty Minnesota Thunder hit the road last weekend to open the season and returned with two points. The squad secured ties against the Charleston Battery (0-0) and the Carolina Railhawks (1-1).

Considering that the squad was seriously undermanned on defense, it was a more than decent start to the season. Two of the team's primary defenders, Kevin Taylor and Alfredo Esteves, were out with injuries. A third, Jonathan Greenfield, was finishing up his indoor season with the Detroit Ignition. (They lost in the championship match 13-8 to the Philadelphia Kixx.)

"We didn't play particularly well in either of the games," says Coach Amos Magee. "I expect that we're going to play better as the season progresses."

But the second year coach was happy to steal a couple of points away from home even though the team wasn't in top form--a rarity last season when the Thunder picked up just seven road points all season long. "I really do think we've got a different mentality this year than we did last year," Magee says. "I feel even though we're younger, we have a better battling, fighting mentality, and I expect that some good things can really happen for us."

Things won't get any easier for the Thunder this weekend. They travel south with the same patchwork corps of defenders to take on a talented Atlanta Silverbacks squad. "They're formidable," says Magee of Atlanta. "I think they're going to be a better team, a more dangerous team, than either Charleston or Carolina. I expect us to be better too."

One bright note for the local squad: 6'4" Japanese forward Keisuke Ota has joined the team and will make the trip to Atlanta. "It's going to take some time to figure out his tendencies and figure out how we can best use him," says Magee. "Guys for the last three years were reluctant to lump balls up the field and have a big guy battle for it. That said, I think they're starting to recognize that we now have a really big legitimate target who will battle and fight and hold the ball for us."

The Thunder's defensive depth will hopefully improve prior to next Sunday's home opener. Magee expects to have Taylor and Greenfield training next week. (A full transcript of my interview with Magee is posted on Blue Sky Soccer.

Tomorrow night's match is being broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel at 7 p.m. (CST). Thunder fans will be gathering in St. Paul at the Sweetwater to watch. It's located at 161 St. Anthony Boulevard (651-224-6373), inside the Kelly Inn. Here's a map. Join us.

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