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Atlanta United draws 2-2 with Nashville SC in Eastern Conference thriller

Opportunity, errant handballs, a red card and homegrown super-sub heroics

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Nashville SC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United’s roster has recently taken a beating. A combination of injuries and international soccer commitments left Gabriel Heinze with a depleted roster. Heading into Thursday’s match, this is the Availability Report MLS had on their website.

Atlanta United’s injury report, per MLS

Despite the numerous, key absences, Gabriel Heinze still had to put out a line up for Atlanta United’s 2-2 draw with Nashville SC on Thursday at Nissan Stadium. And that meant a handful of squad and rotational players got an opportunity.

Alec Kann, Alex de John, and Machop Chol got their first starts of the season. Subsitutions later in the game saw George Campbell, Jackson Conway (more on that later), and Mikey Ambrose get minutes as well.

Anton Walkes wore the captain’s armband on the day while captain and goalkeeper Brad Guzan is away on international duty with the USMNT.

“I found out when I got to the stadium, but it’s something that was always in my mind,” Walkes said. “I wanted the responsibility of being captain today, I felt like I needed to step up and become a bit more of a leader today. I’m very honored to get the opportunity to step in for Brad while he’s away.”

This may have been one of the most entertaining and positive results for Atlanta United this season, and the action began in the 5th minute. Walkes nodded Jake Mulraney’s set piece cross past Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis.

Nashville responded nine minutes later through Jalil Anibaba’s header, moments after Alec Kann made a full-stretch save to reintroduce himself on the MLS stage.

Then, the inexplicable happened. In the 47th minute, as Atlanta United defended a cross, Cubo Torres, the 28-year-old striker (!!!) punched the ball while standing in his own penalty area. I feel like words don’t get the insanity of that moment across, but I haven’t seen any gifs or clips on Twitter yet.

Hany Mukhtar punished Atlanta for Torres’ blunder and put Nashville up 2-1.

Heinze didn’t wait to sub Torres off the field. Four minutes later, homegrown striker Jackson Conway took to the field and six minutes later, he nodded home Atlanta’s equalizer. It was his first MLS goal and second with the first team.

“That’s one of Gaby’s main things as a center forward, is making that double movement,” Conway said. “You pull that defender one way and the next thing you know, you’re off his shoulder. So that’s something they’ve been telling me, that’s something Josef’s been telling me.”

The winless streak continues, but in light of the team’s missing players, Atlanta’s depth answered the call and put in a respectable performance. Atlanta had four homegrown players on the field at one point on Thursday (Conway, Cambell, Chol, and Wolff), which has never happened before in club history.

If Atlanta United was already running low on players to lean on, Heinze’s squad took another couple of hits Thursday night. Mo Adams, the central midfielder who only recently returned to the match day squad against the Philadelphia Union on July 22, was forced off after picking up another injury in the 23rd minute.

Santiago Sosa and Jake Mulraney will miss upcoming games due to suspension. Sosa picked up his fifth yellow card of the season on Thursday, meaning the Argentine will miss Atlanta’s matchup against the New England Revolution next Saturday. Meanwhile Mulraney picked up a straight red card ( a very, very questionable red card in my opinion) in the 74th minute, ruling him out for Atlanta’s next three MLS matches.

Heinze revealed in his post match interview that he asked the referee to check the play that led to Jake Mulraney picking up a red card, and the reasoning for the red card was that Mulraney “didn’t touch the ball.” Heinze also said he expects the club will appeal the red card.

And finally, the best tweet of the night:

Atlanta United will host the New England Revolution at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday at 5 p.m.