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Brad Guzan: To Get a Result Was Going to Take a Different Type of Game

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“We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.”

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There hasn’t been this much discord among Atlanta fans since -checks notes- the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 2021 World Series when the Braves were up by 7 and half of the world was waiting on the curse. This most recent matchup between Atlanta United and the New Jersey Angel Wings New York Red Bulls was definitely divisive as far as style of play was concerned, but as an Atlanta fan, one thing should be made clear: Gonzalo Pineda got the last laugh.

Brad Guzan put into words what everyone was thinking, “We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And on paper, it was even worse. But in reality, Atlanta United went to a cursed away pitch and came away with a success; not a win, but a hard-earned result. They did exactly what was required at this point in the season. The team is beyond experimenting with tactics after it’s recent late-game follies, and especially now since a loss would have made Decision Day even more desperate. But the guys came out with a game plan and the knowledge that the time to actually beat the Red Bulls in the regular season is next year when a potential loss weighs less.

Pineda mentioned in the post-match conference that they wanted more possession. That clearly didn’t happen but Atlanta adapted, weathered the press, and did what needed to be done. If, in some weird way, the Five Stripes see the energy drinks again in the post season, the lineup may change a bit, but for now, it almost guaranteed a playoff spot. Ugly? Yes. Not fun? Yes. But it’s okay to give that up for a game when it’s necessary to ninja-impose your will when everyone thinks the other team is commanding.

Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda:

On his level of satisfaction with the performance:

“I would say that I’m half satisfied. It wasn’t the way we wanted to play. We wanted to have more possession. That was part of the gameplan, but it wasn’t easy tonight. What I will say is that we had a difficult match in front of us with a team that presses with very high intensity. The team did well. I was pleased with the character and determination of the team, winning many duels and securing the second ball at times. I felt that my players were disciplined in those defensive actions. At the end of the day, it’s not always pretty, but we got a good result. Three points would have obviously been better, but I felt that according to the game, we did well.”

On the team handling pressure well tonight:

“Yes of course that’s a positive. They received a lot of pressure, especially inside the box in the opening minutes of the game. We conceded a lot of crosses, set pieces and the players did well. They were up to the level and matched the intensity of the opponent. Then on the ball, we weren’t as sharp as normal. I think at time we should have been playing more in behind. We couldn’t because the pressure of New York Red Bulls was so high and intense that we couldn’t get in behind. The few times that we did, we created a little bit of danger, but overall as you said we didn’t conceded any goals in the final minutes. So, that’s a positive tonight.”

On not playing a traditional striker to start tonight:

“Well, first of all Josef (Martinez) not being in the starting lineup was again load management. He’s coming back from his injuries and played two games with heavy minutes for him last week, so I tried to get some recovery. I could have used Cubo Torres to start tonight, but I felt that securing the middle, the center of the pitch because they were playing long balls and we needed to secure those second balls in front of our center backs was a pivotal part of the game. So, I decided to play Franco Ibarra there next to Matheus Rossetto, similar to how we play with Santiago Sosa. I felt that having the two false nine plan with Luiz (Araujo) and (Ezequiel) Barco, we would have two fast sprinters in behind and catch them in transition. Again, we couldn’t figure out the time to get more balls in behind, but that was the reason behind my decision to not start Josef or Cubo.”

On if tonight’s performance is good enough for the playoffs:

“Well, first of all we are not qualified yet. We need to respect Cincinnati, and also still need to try and get ahead of some teams in the standings. Do our job and go to Cincinnati for another final and prepare the team for making the playoffs. But, for your second question I feel like the mentality, the toughness, the winning duels, absorbing a lot of pressure and not conceding a goal is a big positive for the mentality of the team. That’s how you have to fight to get results in the end of the day. Obviously, the football needs to improve. But the mentality I liked tonight.”

On the midfield pairing of Ibarra and Rossetto tonight:

“I think we are used to playing a possession based, positional style. Today, with the high pressure we couldn’t find that first or second pass. The few times we did, we were cut down with fouls. We received a lot of fouls, and we couldn’t get those transition moments. We needed that. That was part of the issues. The defensive side of what Ibarra and Rossetto was accomplished, so I’m very happy with that.”

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:

On being satisfied with how the team saw the game out tonight:

“Yes. It’s a huge point on the road. Wasn’t pretty by any means. Going into this, we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. Red Bulls have a unique style of course, was always going to be hard with them fighting for their playoff lives. We weathered the storm and at times we bent, but we never broke.”

On being concerned by the offense not generating a lot of chances tonight:

“To be fair, we probably could have won the game when George (Bello) had that chance late on. So, I thought that was a great chance. Aside from the breakaway early in the second half for them, they didn’t have loads of clear cut chances. Again, we bent but never broke. This game was always going to be ugly. So, no I’m not concerned with chances generated today. Because the game called for a different element and we rolled our sleeves up and fought like crazy.”

On if tonight’s match provides a blueprint for how to play against Atlanta:

“We talked about this being a playoff game. Red Bulls were playing for their playoff picture. We knew that we needed to get a result from the game. Obviously, if you come up against a Red Bull team like this, they make it hard for you. They press you like crazy. They play a lot of direct balls and don’t allow a lot of big spaces or gaps and they are all on the same page. Listen, if we see them down the road then so be it and we got to be ready for a fight again and be able to adjust.”

On takeaways from tonight’s performance:

“Yes it’s a good performance, because the task at hand today was to get a result. To get a result was going to take a different type of game, knowing what we were going up against. Yes, it was justifiable the way we battled and competed. It was good in terms of our ability to show a different side of us. I think I was asked a couple weeks ago, could we use that match like in 2018 when we played the last game at Toronto and lost and then went on the run in the playoffs. If you look at that run, we didn’t play the best soccer, we didn’t have 400 passes before we scored goals. We realized that we are going to have to fight. Playoff games are close games, whether it’s 1-0 or 2-1. They aren’t 4-0 or 6-0 games. That’s not how playoffs work in this league. We knew tonight was going to be a playoff type of game and we were going to need to show different aspects of our game. Really proud of the guys tonight. We didn’t give loads of great chances away. We maybe gave away a few too many corners and set pieces, but that’s always something we can look to get better in. I’m extremely pleased with the point and puts us in a position to go into the last game of the season to hopefully win and, pending a couple of other results, maybe host a playoff game.”

Atlanta United defender George Bello

On the team’s ability handle pressure:

“I think we handled it well. Obviously, Red Bulls is never an easy game. The way they play, they press a lot. They don’t give you time on the ball. It’s always going to be a dog fight. You have to adapt to that. Today we didn’t play like we want to play, and it’s because sometimes you have to adapt to the opponent when you’re away. I felt like we handled it well and we are one step closer to the playoffs.”

On the hardest part about tonight’s match:

“Just not having time on the ball. I feel like our time operates best when we have time. We can move it around, we have so much talent so we can play beautiful football. But Red Bulls doesn’t allow you to do that. Kudos to them for being able to do it for that long of a time. Like I said, you just have to adapt. I would say the hardest part was just not having enough time, so we’re pretty much left with having to kick it long to rather have it out of pressure not in our defensive third. I thought we handled it well and we are one step closer.”

On when the team decided to play longer:

“We saw what they were playing, and we were better off kicking it long instead of just trying play out of our back third when we know it may not work or it may cost us a goal. Like I said, we are away, so sometimes you have to adapt to how the opponent’s playing. It was something that we saw in the first half, and we talked about it in the second half and that’s how we started playing. I felt like we handled it pretty well, with what was given to us. Hopefully we close it out on Sunday.”

On if New York Red Bulls style is a blueprint on how to play Atlanta:

“Obviously, we have to talk about it. But I feel like it’s not an issue at all. We’ll always find a way. We have so much talent on our team and we trust in the coaching staff as well that we’ll figure out a way. However teams want to play us, we’ll always try to play our way. If we can’t play our way, we’ll adapt. I have all the trust in my teammates and coaching staff. We’ll be fine.”

A result here is what matters. But Mike Conti was very accurate with his halftime radio call: