Atlanta United 2 opened the season traveling to one of the more challenging venues in the USL-Championship. Orlando SC’s former affiliate, Louisville City FC is a perennial powerhouse in America’s second division and due to the peculiarities of this season’s schedule distribution, this match was already a must-win for the home side.
The philosophy for the 2s seems to have remained the same with Annan shepherding the squad until this summer when he departs for the University of South Carolina. The 2s will be young, scrappy, athletic, and tenacious on and off of the ball. While this match felt like a mid-season match for Louisville, it was in reality a warm-up for the 2s. With so many new faces, chemistry and communication were going to be an issue. What compounded that and made the team’s performance that much more admirable was that they had not even practiced together yet as a unit.
Atlanta sent a very young side to its first away fixture of the season. Six of the starting eleven came from the academy and two from the draft. Jackson Conway, Tyler Wolff, and Josh Bauer all chose to travel with the 2s and were rewarded with starts after Atlanta United Head Coach Gabriel Heinze asked for volunteers from his reserves to help lead this 2s team. Academy prospects Caleb Wiley, Coleman Gannon, and Vicente Reyes returned to the 2s starting eleven and were joined by rising start Brendan Lambe who seems to be playing a version of Santiago Sosa’s role in the midfield.
Bradley Kamdem Fewo stepped into Mo Jadama’s leadership role in the defense after missing 2020 with an injury. He brings a lot of speed to the left centerback position since his primary position is generally left fullback, but he has the grit and presence to help lock down the USL’s towering strikers in the heart of the defense.
Chris Allan brings a lot of height and a bruising presence to the central midfield, Darwin Matheus brings some speed and danger to the left wing, and third-round Superdraft pick Aidan McFadden brings a Gressel-like attacking flair to the right fullback position.
**With great sadness, we at DSS are sad to announce that Aidan McFadden’s flowing locks are no more.**
Louisville started the match playing fast and threatening the young Atlanta side from the opening whistle. While they created plenty of danger in Atlanta’s half of the field, the 2s defense and a standout performance by academy goalkeeper Vicente Reyes kept the score 0-0 through half-time.
Something that remains true from 2020 is that though young, this team is highly athletic, technically skilled, and completely unafraid of their competition. The 2s continued to weather Louisville’s attacks but their relentless pressure and tenacity led to a bevy of yellow cards for their opponents and a handful of tantalizing chances on counters by Matheus, Gannon, McFadden, and Wolff.
The first goal of the match came in the 69th minute. Up until then, it seemed that either team could go on a run and score several goals. For decent stretches, Atlanta looked like the better team. But set pieces are ultimately the undoing for inexperienced units against veteran sides. In a well-executed corner kick, Louisville’s Paolo DelPiccolo bullied Chris Allan for an open header on goal to break the scoreless streak. On a night where Atlanta’s entire team was struggling with their footing on the slick field, it is hard to tell if Allan missed his jump or simply lost his man because the otherwise towering midfielder seemed to shrink rather than rise to meet the cross.
Shortly after the opening goal, the substitutions began for Atlanta. First was Phillip Goodrum who came on for Tyler Wolff in the 70th minute. Wolff had a strong match at the #10 position and looks to be gaining confidence in his new midfield role. With Goodrum moving out to the right wing, Coleman Gannon slid into Wolff’s vacated spot and ran a dynamic attacking and pressing quartet up top.
Goodrum’s introduction to the game seemed to flip a switch for Aidan McFadden who had already put in an admirable shift in his first start as a defender. Goodrum’s presence opened up the right flank allowing for McFadden to barrel down the sideline with a new fury and zeal. His new exuberance even started a brawl a few minutes later after he pegged his Louisville counterpart point-blank with a quick throw-in as Atlanta attempted a counter.
The energy of the match continued to build as new-addition Alex Garuba came on for Darwin Matheus and Homegrown defender Ephraim Morales entered the match for Chris Allan in the 81st minute and took up his role as a towering defensive presence in the midfield. This is an intriguing role for the youngster due to his smooth and confident presence on the ball and his speed. While he has plenty to learn when it comes to positioning and tactical awareness, he is athletically and technically gifted enough to make it work.
Atlanta’s best chance of the night came in the 82nd minute as the dynamic duo of Goodrum and McFadden wreaked havoc on the right flank. After slicing up Louisville’s midfield with a quick and dynamic give-and-go, McFadden released and ran free into the Louisville box. He was immediately met by a defender who slammed him to the ground. The team and their bench (and admittedly this writer) roared with excitement for a clear penalty but the referee was not impressed. After the match, Annan voiced his displeasure with the non-call, “Stonewall. Absolute stonewall penalty. If you watch the replay, the kid has no chance of playing the ball and he shoves Aiden [McFadden] straight in the middle of the back. And that changes the game at 1-0.”
With the score still 1-0, Atlanta simply had to hold on and try to create another chance on a breakaway, but their fitness and inexperience seemed to get the better of them in the 86th minute when the team failed to close down player/coach George Davis IV on the right side of the defense, allowing an open cross to a crashing DelPiccolo for his second goal. That entire sequence was a broken play and any number of players could be faulted with the goal.
And so the match ended 2-0, a disappointing scoreline for an otherwise highly encouraging performance. “To be fair,” Annan admitted after the match, “I was pleased with the effort from group for not having trained together at all. They did quite well, played some good football and defended very well. The effort was amazing from the whole group.” He credited the two conceded goals to a “lack of detail from the players and two mistakes. Two errors where we let down and lost concentration. At this level, that will cost you. They took their chances, we didn’t.”
The main takeaway from this match should be that this will be a very entertaining young team made up of highly talented players in need of experience. It is remarkable to see the progress of the player pool for the 2s over the last few seasons. Each year brings a new group that continues to grow in maturity, ability, and potential. It is easy to understand what Heinze sees in these young players because many of them have the potential to play important roles for Atlanta United for years to come. Caleb Wiley has gotten physically bigger and more polished at left-back, Coleman Gannon continues to impress, Jackson Conway somehow seems like even more of a mountain of a young man, Vicente Reyes continues to make a strong case for himself in his competition with Rocco Rios Novo, and Brendan Lambe gave us reason to believe he eventually could be a Weston McKennie-style central midfielder.
There is plenty to be excited about for the 2s in 2021 and plenty of compelling storylines for fans to watch. Check back in with this team on May 1st as they travel to Oklahoma to face the Oklahoma City Energy. That match will be streamed on ESPN+ started at 8:30pm ET.