Atlanta United suffered a frustrating loss to Montreal Saturday night, in what felt like two separate games played. Atlanta had a fairly strong first half with chances that didn’t get put away, including what would have absolutely been a Goal of the Year contender by Ezequiel Barco:
During that same sequence, Josef Martinez appeared to have suffered some sort of injury and he really didn’t move for the rest of the first half. Gonzalo Pineda later stated that he appeared to have some muscle issue, so here’s hoping that’s truly the only issue and it isn’t more of the knee problem.
The second half started with momentum in Atlanta’s favor when the two subs, Luiz Araujo and Jake Mulraney, combined for a beautiful goal. Then, two goals were scored against Atlanta immediately after as they took their foot off the gas, and they never could find the equalizer. That whole situation is where the majority of the following quotes originate, because to everyone it felt like Atlanta was the better team and simply took their eyes off the prize for a moment. That being said, here’s how the team put it:
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On Josef Martinez’s substitution at halftime:
“First I will address Josef’s sub. He was feeling some tightness in his hamstring and we were just trying to prevent something. We will have to assess him. They will do a check on him.”
On any concerns with the attack following tonight’s match:
“Every game is different. What we saw last week was a team in a lower block, backline of five, is not easy to break down. But I feel we are creating good chances, but we need to be more clinical at times. Today, I feel that in the first half we created more and better chances than the opponent, but we couldn’t capitalize on those. In the other key moments of the game we just concede two goals on a couple of individual mistakes. That’s part of the game. I’m not concerned about not scoring goals if we are creating good chances, in my opinion. We need to always create more and better chances, but at times that is difficult when the opponent is in a low block with five in the back. Those aren’t easy to breakdown and the transition becomes an issue. I would be concerned if we weren’t creating enough chances.”
On if he feels limited at the striker position in the squad:
“No, I don’t feel any limitation at all. We have a great roster. We are creating enough chances. Obviously there are moments in the season, like when we scored 10 goals in three games, nobody said anything about that (limitation of roster). Just because we haven’t scored many goals, we are now talking about this. The main part for me is always creating more and better chances. For me is then just probabilities that we will score more. At times, we aren’t sharp enough in front of goal and missing chances. We need to be clinical. That happens all over the world, it’s part of the game. My job is to prepare the team to create more chances, but also work more on the finishing. So maybe, that’s a focus in training more. But in terms of my roster, I’m very proud of them. I have good options off the bench, you saw today when we subbed Josef at halftime, we scored a goal in first few minutes of second half. I felt that we could have scored a couple more. It’s all about being clinical in the boxes.”
On Montreal getting opportunities on the counter frequently tonight:
“I feel that in the first half, we created chances, dominated the game and had more possession. We were pressing high and were good. In the second half, after starting good and scoring a goal, we conceded two goals. Then after that, I felt that we had to take some risks. We changed to a backline of four. Maybe that was were we lost a little bit of control and balance with the team. We were susceptible in transition. I felt that we had to take that risk since we were losing the game and wanted to score the tying goal. It’s part of the game and I was willing to take that risk.”
On bringing on Franco Ibarra in second half and the tactical switch that followed:
“What I wanted was to change to a backline of four and then having more attackers on the flank. In the last game against Miami, when we created the penalty kick it was because we had 2-v-1 chances on the flanks. Jake Mulraney taking on wingbacks and George Bello overlapping. Same on the other side. That was the idea. At the same time, from the central areas I wanted to see maybe Matheus Rossetto streaking in behind to create opportunities. At the moment we made that sub, Montreal was in a deep shape and we wanted to shake things up. We knew that we would probably be more exposed in transition, but we needed to go for a tie.”
On what the focus will be over these next two weeks:
“First of all, there were many positives tonight. As you said, this was a different game (then at Philadelphia last week) where we pushed until the end. And I’m very proud of the whole team. I think everybody was fighting till the end. That’s one of the characteristics that I like. Whether we are winning, tying or losing, I want the team to continue attacking and performing. I felt that tonight the team fought and played up to a standard that is good enough. But, at the same time we have to learn how to control, after scoring a goal, how to control the tempo in the first few minutes. I felt that individual mistakes gave them enough chances to go ahead, and then we tried to catch up and it wasn’t good enough in the end. But, and I just told this to the group, there were many positives tonight. We will learn from the mistakes. We will take those mistakes as a group as well, because football is a team sport. Mistakes can happen. We need to take those as a team and try to improve in the next few weeks on dictating the tempo, critical moments of the game and finishing. I think we need to be more clinical in the box and we are going to try and improve on those.”
Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon
What the team needs to do better to get a result in a game like this
“I think you said it in your question – I think managing the game after we go up. I thought we played really well in the first 45 minutes, like Gonzalo [Pineda] said. And throughout the whole 90 minutes, I thought the energy and intensity was there. Everyone was giving their full effort, pushing to get a win and come home with three points. But, like you said, managing the game, especially after we go up 1-0, we can’t then concede a couple of minutes later. That kills your momentum to give it back level 1-1. And then just a mistake on the second goal, a careless giveaway and they were in on goal. Penalty kick and he finished it. Just managing the game after we go up 1-0, especially on the road, being better – maybe we just bunker in for 10 minutes and look to counter. I think those are the times when you can’t really send people forward and have people all over the place. You need to manage the game.”
On what the team needs to do against teams that bunker over final six games
“I don’t think teams – just because they’re out of the playoff picture – are going to bunker in. We’re going to come up against different tactics each and every game. Every team in MLS is different. We beat teams this year that have bunkered in against us, especially at Mercedes-Benz Stadium because it’s hard to play attacking minded football against us at home because we’re so lethal in the attack. We just need to be better at managing the game and when we face teams that bunker in like that, we need to break them down with good soccer, moving the ball quickly, side-to-side, switching the play quicker and getting numbers into the box. I think when the ball gets wide, we need to get better at putting more numbers in the box to create goal-scoring opportunities.”
On how the team changes in moments when Josef Martinez isn’t on the field
“When he’s not on the field, it’s a lot different than when he is just because of his quality and presence. He makes those runs and he keeps those center backs in check when he’s in the game. When he’s out of the game, like you said, we have those creative players up top, but we don’t have that central force – especially when the ball gets wide – to be in the box to try to goal hound. Just being better at knowing the situation, whether Josef is in the game or not. We need to be able to get numbers in the box when the ball is wide, like I said, and figure out how we’re going to play. Because, I think, at times when he’s not on the field we get away from our game plan a little bit and we look for those creative players to have some sort of a miraculous play. Whereas I think we need to be more simple, know our role. Everyone on Atlanta United is quality. Every single player is good, we just need to trust each other a little more. I think Gonzalo has harped on that a lot in video, trusting your teammates. Every player on this team is really good. So, when the ball gets wide, for example tonight, there were multiple times when I got the ball, or when Jake [Mulraney] got the ball wide, there were dangerous crosses in the box, but there was no one that took a chance and got on the end of something. So, managing the game, knowing when Josef is on the field or not, how we’re going to play.
On the team’s mentality and if it’s up to the challenge to pick itself up from this loss
“It is a young group, but it’s a group that is hungry and wants to win and wants to get into that playoff picture. We have six games left, we have a nice two week period of time where we can work on the things that we need to work on. And we either really go for it and give our best effort and win these next six games and get in that playoff picture – or we don’t. It’s up to us as players. Yes, we are a young group. And some of the young guys, especially me and guys like Miles [Robinson] who have been in the league for a little while can really push these guys in practice and keep the level high in training. And work on building. Fix a couple of mistakes here and there in the game tonight, you never know. If we don’t give up a cheap ball away tonight, we’re sitting here talking differently. It’s not like we got run over tonight. I thought we fought really hard. We put in a good performance in, we just didn’t get three points, which is unfortunate. So we have to go back to the drawing board, work hard these next two weeks, go to Toronto and get three points.”
Atlanta United midfielder Jake Mulraney
On if the team lost because it needed to be more clinical in front of goal:
“I understand exactly what [Gonzalo Pineda] means. When the best goal scorer in the league goes off it doesn’t really help. But I understand what he means, and I agree that we do need to put our chances away. I think in the first half we had a few, but that’s football. Just have to focus on the next six games, six huge games. That’s huge now. It’s so tight at the moment for the race for the playoffs. We’re definitely right up there. Tonight, obviously, doesn’t help a lot. But I feel like we’ve definitely still got a huge chance at making playoffs.”
On the differences in goalscoring over the last three matches:
“That happens when there’s really good teams in this league. I feel like sometimes you’re really on it, and then sometimes you just need to grind it and get wins. Me personally, I don’t care if it’s 1-0 or it’s 4-0, if we’re getting wins that’s the main thing.”
On playing with a false nine and the pressure that puts on other players:
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure. Against Orlando, we played with a false nine. And for me personally, they are one of the best teams I’ve come up against in this league and we beat them 3-0. We still have really talented players that can go and turn a game on its head in one action. Obviously, the false nine is a little bit different as a winger. If you get to the byline there’s a couple of less players in there, but we’ve got to adapt. Go back, watch and analyze things and get more numbers into the box.”
On being the more talented team but not winning:
“It’s probably just a mental thing to be honest. Not to compare to PSG, but look at their squad. People expect them to steam roll clubs. That’s just football. That’s just how it is. Sometimes the most talented team doesn’t always win. That’s just how football is. We just need to focus on ourselves and doing things right and doing what Gonzalo asks us to do and try to implement that in the games. With the players we’ve got, we can definitely get ourselves into that playoff spot.”
On his goal:
“Playing with a false nine is new. I thought there was going to be some space behind. I know [Ezequiel Barco] likes to drift left so I know that when Luiz [Araújo] picks up that ball and when he dribbles inside, he’s got a great left foot. So, I just made the run. Players at his level see that run. I just felt like making that run and he slipped it into me, and I put it away. To be honest, I should probably have four or five more goals this year. I’ve missed some big chances but I’m glad that one went in.”
Listening to Gonzo is always enlightening because he seems to have a very astute understanding of the game. His explanation of the second-half makes total sense because he was attempting to change the formation a bit to disrupt Montreal’s bunkering after they went ahead, and to at least fight back for a draw. At least the man is trying to play the chess match throughout, no matter the result. The two goals given up in this game were, unfortunately, moments of individuality and falling asleep at the wheel. Gonzo put the team in a position to win, even with a strange starting lineup and formation, but it just didn’t play out that way.
Brooks Lennon also mentioned something very interesting in reference to Josef Martinez when he said “Because, I think, at times when he’s not on the field we get away from our game plan a little bit and we look for those creative players to have some sort of a miraculous play. Whereas I think we need to be more simple, know our role.” When this match started, Atlanta had some very nice interplay, one-touch passes, and overall quick play. After Josef came off, Atlanta scored the goal, and then fell behind quickly, it seemed like the players almost reverted to trying to do all the work alone when they had teammates in open spaces in other spaces on the field. That’s clearly something for the training ground, and hopefully this match will open their eyes when they go back and watch video.
As Gonzo has stated before, this team has the talent and the need to be able to play and win without Josef. They just have to commit to figuring out how.