Atlanta United has officially made it through two matches of their final six after the international break. There was drama in Toronto, frustration back home, and a tough end to the season for the 2’s. The Eastern Conference standings are still very much a free-for-all, but the team has a week between their NYCFC match this past Wednesday and their next game against Miami on the 27th. Prayerfully, the team will get some help this weekend in other matches around the league, but the Five Stripes’ playoff spot is still firmly in their own hands.
Before we get started, there has to be an honorable mention for Gonzalo Pineda’s birthday! He found himself not only vulnerable to the cake attack, but the players also decided to throw in some other ingredients in the form of silly string and the classic Gatorade dump.
Rules are rules— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 19, 2021
No exceptions made for @GonzoPineda8 pic.twitter.com/ku9gUiAdBX
Now, on to the three things you need to know about Atlanta United this week.
- Atlanta United Defeats Toronto North of the Border
And it was a crazy one, to say the least. When DSS staff are sending messages to each other asking what’s going on in a soccer match, something has gone horribly awry. Last Saturday the Five Stripes headed north to Toronto to claw their way back above the playoff line. They did so, but only after the strangest bit of midday-talk-show-drama that involved almost everyone on both teams coming dangerously close to blows.
It all started between Ezequiel Barco and Toronto’s Auro, Jr. To be fair, tensions were progressing as the game moved forward, but what sparked the craziness was when Auro bumped into Barco and Barco hit the floor. Admittedly, it was a flop, but the two soon were in each other’s faces. While they were arguing, the ball got played back in and taken forward by Toronto, which was an act Alan Franco took personally. While Alan Franco and most of the other players on the field argued, Barco and Auro barely bumped each other’s foreheads, causing them to be sent off with straight reds.
The show then spilled into the tunnel as Auro tried to chase after Barco. A rather large mob formed and at one point, Rob Valentino was pushed in the back by a benched Toronto player. Gonzalo Pineda was right in the middle of the throng, sticking up for his guys and trying to separate everyone. Eventually, the game continued as a 10 vs. 10, and Atlanta pulled it out as a 2-0 victory and officially eliminated Toronto from playoff contention.
Besides the drama, the two goals were actually pretty strange, too. Araujo found himself on the end of some beautiful, quick play between Moreno, Barco, and Bello and scuffed the kick. The wonderful part was that the scuffed strike actually went in, just over the keeper’s head. And then in stoppage time, Marcelino “Mando” Moreno doubled the lead in a way only he could.
A perfect way to end the half— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 17, 2021
Well done, Luiz Araújo! pic.twitter.com/1uBeUduuhQ
10 out of 10 pic.twitter.com/c2qR8KJVah— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 17, 2021
2. The Five Stripes Give Up Points At Home Against NYCFC
On Wednesday, Atlanta played its first of three home matches in this final regular season stretch. Because of Barco’s aforementioned red card, he was unavailable in this match as Atlanta’s appeal was denied. NYCFC came into the Benz looking like they were going to give the Five Stripes some serious trouble, but it didn’t take long for the home team to settle into the game. And once again, it was the Mandalorian who opened up the scoring after the Brazilian Chef stole a recipe from New York and served it up on a platter (that was fun to write).
No. back at it again pic.twitter.com/TgdIPJVUMn— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 21, 2021
It must be mentioned that Moreno’s new “Say My Name” celebration fits very well.
Chances didn’t end there, but it was Bello’s chance in the 55th minute that felt like it would have been the true game changer had he put it about two inches down.
Same @brookslennon...same pic.twitter.com/6U7fW1p8j9— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 21, 2021
These missed opportunities would come back to haunt Atlanta in the last minute of the match. Midway through the second half NYCFC adopted soccer’s version of throwing it against the wall until it sticks. They put a ton of bodies forward, and Gonzalo Pineda responded by shoring up the midfield (admittedly a solid tactical option). However, Santiago Sosa was brought off because a knock, and Amar Sejdic entered the pitch as New York began to push harder into Atlanta’s final third. What needs to be mentioned here, though, is that Atlanta’s backline was playing particularly well, especially Alan Franco. In the last minute, Sejdic committed a horrifically sloppy and unnecessary foul about a yard outside the box. The ensuing free kick was buried, tying and ending the game at 1-1. Considering the circumstances in the Eastern Conference, it felt very much like a loss.
3. Atlanta United 2 End Their Season With a Loss to Tulsa
The 2’s have admittedly had their best year in their young existence in 2021. Some solid talent is showing at that level in guys like Rocco Rios Novo, Darwin Matheus, and others. And who can forget Rocco’s performance earlier in the year for the first team against Alajuelense?
There will be plenty of decisions to be made now that the 2’s season is over, but it’s just unfortunate they had to go out 4-0. Granted, Tulsa had a lot more to play for in terms of playoff implications, and the 2’s started the match off on the front foot. The momentum was sucked out early, though, and the young guys never recovered. The score line was 3-0 at the half, and the nail in the coffin by Tulsa ensured the 2’s would be headed home a tad frustrated. It’ll be interesting to see how their off-season plays out, though, which is ultimately going to be very neat considering the interest Gonzalo Pineda has shown in scouting out that young talent.
The stakes are getting higher as Decision Day approaches, and the playoff battle is looking more and more like a nail biter. Atlanta has four very winnable games ahead, and the team needs to secure those points and push for a potential home game in the playoffs. Go big, because we need to see Gonzo defeat Seattle for the MLS Cup in December.