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Atlanta United 2 Falls 1-0 to Memphis

Unfortunate early red card dooms the 2s

Atlanta United 2 returned to the road in a rematch against Laurent Kissiedou and Memphis 901 FC. The teams previously played to a draw in a rough match full of counterattacks and physical play. That physicality and danger of the counter would only grow as the teams’ met at Memphis’s narrower and shorter pitch that makes NYCFC’s Yankee Stadium configuration look like an Aussie Rules Football pitch.

The 2s saw a lot of changes to their lineup including the debut of the club’s newest homegrown signing, Bryce Washington. Washington lined up in what could be called a right-back position in the 4-2-3-1, but he often played more like a hybrid right centerback in defense. Caleb Wiley returned to his left-back spot next to Bradley Kamdem Fewo and Josh Bauer. Ahead of them in the midfield were Will Reilly and Ajani Fortune who made his first professional appearance against his brother Dre Fortune. Robbie Mertz returned to the #10 spot, flanked by Connor Stanley on the left and David Mejia on the right. Mathias Benítez was the lone man up top but spent more time dropping deep into the midfield to facilitate possession. Finally, Rocco Ríos Novo returned to goal helping this team to a remarkably young average age of 20.7 years old.

Atlanta controlled the ball early, but a highly physical battle in the midfield proved to be the decisive factor in the match. Memphis was relentless in pressure on Ajani Fortune and Will Reilly as they received the ball at the beginning of their build-up play. Three errant touches by Ajani Fortune led to three quick yellow cards with the first the 25th minute on Fortune, second in the 29th minute on Reilly as he broke up a counter, and finally the third in the 36th minute on Fortune as he football tackled his brother after poorly receiving a pass from Bryce Washington in the defensive third of the field. Fortune left the game with little argument from himself or his teammates. This rough and physical match was about to get a lot more challenging for the 2s.

Benítez dropped deeper into the midfield to help facilitate the build-up but this role seemed to stymie him on the attacking end. Rather than serve as the club’s final attacking option, he did everything else and did it excellently but looked for the final pass instead of taking the shot himself. Reilly came alive after Fortune was sent off and began to impose his will in the midfield. He was all over the place making tackles, deflecting shots, and doing everything he could to will his team forward. Connor Stanley shared his enthusiasm and fought for every inch, nearly springing free for one-on-one opportunities on goal. But the first half came to a close with no score and the 2s down a man.

Memphis started the second half on the front foot. Attacking proactively is not their preferred tactical style since they prefer to pressure and counter, but they seemed to have little trouble moving the ball up the pitch to get into dangerous positions.

Atlanta defended courageously with Rocco Ríos Novo growing a foot during the game to come up with some huge saves and bring maturity beyond his years to his 6-yard box. Caleb Wiley played another incredible match, earning a veteran yellow card after being beaten on a turn to the end line. His foul probably saved a goal. On the opposite side of the defense, Bryce Washington defended well and got upfield to combine with David Mejia and later Darwin Matheus after he subbed on in the 65th minute. The 2s refused to concede the match and they refused to abandon their proactive, pressing, and possession-based style of play. Jack Collison’s team was playing on a knife’s edge, so close to stunning their hosts but also so close to oblivion.

In the 75th minute, Memphis finally broke through with a point-blank header on a corner whipped in by Kissiedou. Memphis celebrated like it was the first goal in club history because they had broken the deadlock. There was blood in the water and they wanted more.

Immediately after the goal, Collison sent on Alex Garuba for Benítez to play as a more traditional target forward to try to poach an equalizer. As time wound down on regulation, he nearly found it as a quick restart that began with Novo fell to his feet in front of goal. With the opposing keeper on the ground in pain and an open net in front of him, Garuba failed to corral the ball and find a shot.

And so the match came to a close disappointingly down 1-0 on the road.

A Few Final Thoughts

  1. Man of the Match goes to our goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo for his superb effort in keeping the match close. He was absolutely pepper with shots in the second half but calmly commanded his net and had a strong performance overall. In a different match, we may dock him points for a few bad distributions that led to turnovers but tonight was not the night for that.
  2. Atlanta’s newest Homegrown Player, Bryce Washington, had a very good debut playing out of position. He had big shoes to fill in place of Aidan McFadden but did a commendable effort in defense and showed some interesting potential going forward in short passing triangles. Atlanta loves to have versatile players so it is a good sign that Washington can find ways to get onto the pitch while also offering any kind of depth at right-back.
  3. Our darkhorse performer tonight is a tie between Connor Stanley and Caleb Wiley. The left flank looked strong and offered the most going forward for the team. Wiley continues to grow before our eyes to routinely be one of the best players on the pitch on any given night and Stanley continues to impress in a loan that we hope has a purchase clause on the end of it.
  4. For the first time this year, I’m adding a fourth thought to a recap and that thought goes to Will Reilly. Reilly continues to prove his value and showcase his potential for the 2s. While he is far from a perfect player, he flashes all over the field, does the gritty thankless work on one end while looking to add to his highlight reel on the other. He went into the last offseason needing to work on his defense and matches like this show how far he has grown. With his midfield partner center off early and with him also being on an early yellow, Reilly could have played it safe or gotten frustrated and found a second yellow for himself, too, but instead, Reilly showed incredible maturity as an 18-year-old and made the midfield his to control. He will be a difficult player to replace if he ends up leaving for Stanford at the end of next month.

So that’s it for another 2s match. Next up, Atlanta United 2 gets a well-earned break to heal, train, and prepare to welcome Oklahoma City to Atlanta on June 27th. The match is currently scheduled to start at 7:30 pm and will be available to stream on ESPN+.