Fatigue was on full display in this rainy match-up between Atlanta United 2 and the top club in their group, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Schedule congestion and injuries forced a change in the lineup with Lamin Jawneh getting his first start at left wing. Jawneh’s addition to the lineup gave Phillip Goodrum some much-needed rest. The 2’s attack has been seriously affected by the absence of Jackson Conway who remained absent from the match squad after sustaining an injury before a match a couple of weeks ago.
From the opening whistle, the Rowdies showed why they were one of the best teams in the USL and nearly unbeatable at Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies dominated possession and tempo of the match, spending much of the first half in the attacking third. The game plan was clear, the Rowdies intended to challenge Caleb Wiley down Atlanta’s left flank and whip the ball in behind the back line to a strike flashing past Mo Jadama’s back shoulder. For Atlanta, it was a matter of absorbing pressure and attempting to break the tenacious Tampa counter-press. The 2’s showed a great deal of grit and luck as the potential opening goal by the home side was cleared off of the line time and time again by the visitors. The incredible attacking pressure placed on the this young team made it a constant question of how far they could bend before breaking. The Rowdies continued to rack up chances, peppering Ben Lundgaard at a high volume. Then, in the 21st minute, Tampa scored their first goal with a second coming in the 39th minute. Mo Jadama was beaten badly on the second goal. One has to question whether his high minutes are taking a serious toll. At the half, it was clear changes needed to be made on the Atlanta side or else this would be a long and miserable evening.
Those changes began at the half with recently-signed homegrown prospect Efrain Morales coming on for Patrick Neilsen. Annan may be using this duo as a platoon of sorts because neither player is 100% healthy. Morales struggled early in the second half. He picked up a silly yellow card thanks to a football tackle on the sideline, and later gave up a penalty kick. Lucky for Morales, and for Atlanta United, Lundgaard came up big, saving a mid-height blast to the left side of the net.
Sometimes all it takes is a big save to change the momentum of a match. In this case, a big save and some key attacking subs led to Atlanta’s best chance of the night. In a beautiful build-up and give-and-go, Amir Bashti slips a pass through the Tampa back line to Goodrum, who is taken down in the box. Atlanta United 2 were awarded a penalty.
There seemed to be some magic building for the visitors leading into stoppage time, but a torrential downpour and a lengthy injury stoppage for a Rowdy player kill all of Atlanta’s remaining momentum.
This writer does not believe in moral victories, but it seems as if Atlanta may return home feeling as if they had one more goal left in them. This Atlanta team may look back at this match and see how much the momentum swung in their favor as Bashti, Goodrum, Fortune, and Edwards brought a new energy, creativity, and exciting flair to this otherwise dour affair. Tampa Bay should have won this match, and did, but this young Atlanta team decided to give them a fight at the end, while many other squads would have started up the bus for the long rainy ride home. These sorts of matches are hard, but they are good for young teams. Adversity breeds opportunity, and this team is hungry.