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Marcelino Moreno: “This is the way.”

Yes he just said that, he is now Mando Moreno

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United
Scoring may, in fact, be his religion
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Five Stripes battled on Saturday night to a 2-1 win over D.C. United in their fourth straight win to end a hectic, yet successful, week. The match was a roller coaster of up-and-down moments, with Atlanta creating some solid chances and also getting brutally assaulted for what seemed like 25 minutes straight. We also got to witness Brad Guzan getting dunked on by a Yordy Reyna free kick (though he did much better afterward), Josef Martinez not receiving a penalty kick when he was clipped in the shin by D.C.’s keeper, and the ref apparently forgetting that three minutes of extra time means the second hand goes around the watch face three times and not four. Marcelino “Man-of-the-match-Mando” Moreno pulled the team back ahead in the 82nd minute and then dropped one of my favorite Atlanta United quotes of all time: “This is the way.” Yes it is, Mando Moreno.

Here are the things that were said post-match, and on a serious and optimistic note, the players are sounding much happier these days.

Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino

On the gutsy performance from the team tonight:

“I don’t look at it from a personal standpoint. I looked at it from an application of the game plan and what the game was. For me, the game played out how we probably thought it would play out. I thought they were really mature in the performance. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Both teams have been through it. They’ve been through it on the road, we’ve fortunately had two home games. This has been a tough week though for the players. I thought they showed a lot of maturity where we had a lot of pressure, but also in the transitions we handled both sides relatively well. We still were able to create chances and be dangerous and stick to our identity. I’m really proud of them, for me that was one of the best feelings I’ve had on the touchline.”

On what the game plan was tonight?

“We talked about this game being a little different than the last two we had. We knew it would be more open in transition, because of the way they like to attack. I didn’t want to change the message that we had, about being attack-minded and going forward. But let’s be realistic in that they will come at us. I have a lot of respect for their coach (Hernan Losada) and what he’s done there. They play a really good style and I like to watch them play. We knew it was going to be open. We talked a lot about the wingbacks and the “8’s” if you want to call them that, like Marcelino (Moreno) and Luiz (Araujo) how they could manage moments defensively in transition. Even Ezequiel Barco or Josef Martinez could come back and help, and at times it was difficult for them for sure. Then the back five would have to manage things. I’m not silly to think that D. C. didn’t have chances, it could have gone either way, but the moments that I thought would cause us problems they did. I thought for the most part it just was a difficult game. On the back of your third game in 7 days, that’s not easy for these guys. We asked a lot of them.”

On what he’s done to unlock Marcelino Moreno’s production offensively:

“I keep saying it, there is nothing that I can do on the field, it’s on the players that open up these things. We ask them to get in certain positions. I asked him to play deeper, I need you to play deeper. I’m going to need you to come deeper and helps us get it from our defensive third to the attacking third. That was going to be important. I know he likes to play higher up the pitch, but the sacrifice for the team tonight was him playing deeper because I think he’s versatile. It’s not what I’ve done for him, it’s something inside him that when he’s in good areas he’s driving those areas. He has the freedom to drive, then he has to make decisions and make the right option. It goes for all the attackers. They are presented with options, and in the game if somebody is in option one, then go for two or three. That’s where the players have to be free to express themselves. He’s getting himself in better positions higher up the field and being able to add to that. He’s been good, he’s just one of them that has produced more. It’s not me, it’s them.”

On how proud he is of tonight’s result and how he turned the team around:

“I’m extremely proud of the result tonight. It’s really important when you come here on the road, it’s not an easy team to play against, not an easy place to come and play. Especially on the back of the schedule we had. I’m really proud of what they have done. When we took over, we talked about doing everything together and I expressed that to them again tonight. This night’s for you (the players), you brought yourself to this moment where this is a big game, now let’s go out and get our reward. My message at the end was that you don’t always get your reward for it. Every team works hard, trains hard, they don’t always get the reward. I’m proud that they got the reward that I feel like they deserve. To see them get some reward is really positive. I’m excited to see where it’s going, because we can’t just stop here. We’re close, but look at the realistic position that we are in. We need to be better, we need to be higher up the table. There is a lot of work to go, but we are happy for the moment that we have and we will celebrate this moment.”

On George Campbell’s performance off the bench:

“I thought George was unbelievable. That’s a difficult game to come into. Alan Franco played so many minutes and has been tremendous for us. Unfortunately he was cramping, but he gave us everything he could tonight. There are guys chomping at the bits ready to come on. George is one we have told that it’s not always going to be with the First Team. You may have to go play with ATLUTD 2 to keep his rhythm and keep developing. For me, tonight’s performance showed that he takes those opportunities and does really well with them. He was tremendous tonight.”

On if the team received an explanation on the non-penalty call in first half:

“I didn’t receive any notification of why. I didn’t fight it.”

On if he’s thinking about his personal coaching future at this moment:

“No, I try not to. I’m focused on this group. I honestly haven’t thought about anything except the next game on the schedule. There has been so much to do, so much work to get done. I don’t really think ahead like that. Sure you have long-term goals and things like that. But, if opportunity comes, whether here or somewhere else, you always listen to things. But, I’m not focused on that. If you do that, you get distracted. I’m not there yet in my coaching career. I’ve got so much to learn, we will see where that goes. Hopefully it’s here for a while. I really like being at this club, like working with these players. Hopefully we can do something special together now that we’ve had some taste of success. Hopefully we can have some more.”

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan

On the four-game win streak and Rob Valentino’s impact on the turnaround:

“It wasn’t one thing. It wasn’t’ just like a magic switch. I think he gave a lot of confidence to the group. I think he gave a lot of belief to guys to go and I don’t want to say play freely, but play freely within the team and how we wanted to play as a group. So, you started to see guys express themselves. You started seeing guys should ability individually and should quality in what they could bring to the team. When you have that quality within the group and you have an idea of what you’re trying to do as eleven guys on the field and then that little bit of quality shines through, more times than not good things are going to happen.”

On being on the other side of picking up a late goal to secure three points:

“It’s huge. Somebody said it best when we came in, just the belief that we were going to get another chance. The belief we were going to go score. I will hold my hands up for the goal. I thought Brooks was closer than he was in terms of not allowing him to take it quick and just try to start organize things in the middle of the box. The next thing you know, the ball is flying over my head. So, I’m extremely thankful for Marcelino to go in and get the winner for us because to have a comeback go in our favor, I think it shows you where the belief is in this group at the minute, where the character is in this group at the minute. You need that going forward, especially when you’re coming out of the period that we’ve come out of. And now to go four in a bout is huge. We know it wasn’t perfect at times tonight. It was a hard game. It was a very hard game on the road, so to come away with three points is all that matters. When we’re going to be looking back come September, October, we’re going to look back at this game saying that was a huge three points in D.C.”

On if this performance was good enough within the context of the game and the focus needed to secure three points in the closing minutes:

“Within the game, yes. It was because it‘s not just about the goals. I’ve always said that goals change games. If you look at the chances we created. Kempin makes a good save on Josef in the second half. We had some chances. Marcelino had a chance late on. We definitely had some good chances in the game. But that’s also why you play the game. Going back to the first part, in terms of saves and what not, they started throwing everything and everyone into the box. I think Bello said in the locker room afterwards, he lost count on the amount of crosses Julian put into the box. Obviously, we know his quality and how dangerous he is on that side in terms of his delivery. Fair play to the guys in front of me. It was a long week in terms of I think we started to see some tired legs, tired minds. In those moments, you try to come up with the goods and, luckily, I was able to make one or two saves late in the game, being able to hold on to three points. I think a big shoutout goes to George Campbell as well. I said to him afterwards, he was phenomenal when he came on. To come into a game like that on the road, to play the way he played. I said if he plays like that, the sky’s the limit because he was aggressive, he was composed, he was great. I know that wasn’t part of your question. Big shoutout to George Campbell.”

On how he has seen George Campbell develop:

“The thing with George is that he is young and he’s still developing. He’s still learning the game, learning the position. Sometimes he plays on the right, sometimes he plays in the middle. So, it’s not always the easiest in terms of where he’s going to be on the field when he comes in, whether he’s going to start. I said to him tonight is his aggressiveness, his ability to stay switched on in difficult moments. Balls get played in the box, blocks, intercepting passes. That’s what was needed tonight. We talk about subs coming in and making an impact. He made a massive impact for us on the defensive side of the ball. For him, it’s about consistency and being able to use this performance and to grow from it. Next time he plays, whether it’s next game or whenever, not to take one or two steps backwards. Can you continue to build on this performance. Like I said, the sky is the limit if he is able to do that.”

On if he has ever faced 27 shots before:

“I don’t know. You can say 27 shots, but I’m sure not 27 of them were on target. In my mind, you’re not really facing 27 shots. From a goalkeeper standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, I think we look at the dangerous opportunities that are coming or are leading to those shots or what types of shots they are getting. Sometimes you need to take away option A and B and give them option C, and option C might be a shot from distance. I remember the save down to my right right after they scored. I think Anton was saying in that moment he couldn’t really step because he was with a guy and if he steps and he gets slipped in, all of a sudden it’s a one-on-one instead of a shot from 25-yards out. In that instance, in those moments, you are taking away dangerous option one and two and you’re leaving them with option three. My job is to try to make a save. Fortunately, I was able to do that, minus the wide free kick.”

Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno

On the four-game win streak and Rob Valentino’s impact on the turnaround:

I think there is a difference in the system. It is two different systems and two coaches that had different thoughts and the way they look at the game. For any sense, you have Gabriel that was a little more possession and defensive. Then you have Rob who, in his opinion, is going to attack and score goals.”

On if Rob’s system suites him better:

“I think so because I have more freedom when I am attacking.”

On the tactics in tonight’s game:

“Rob told me that because Amar is not a natural six, I had to go a little deeper and help when defending because of Santiago’s absence.”

On if he is happier in the new system:

“Yes, I look happier on the field. I have a lot more freedom, but I also have big players and big performances from Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez by me that helps a lot, me and the team.”

On the team’s confidence with its fourth consecutive win:

“Obviously, winning four games in a row gives you a lot of confidence, but we can’t be satisfied. This is the way. We have to continue to improve to achieve the goal.”

On if he has met with Pineda:

“No, I haven’t spoken with him one-on-one yet. In a week, we’re going to have time. We met with him as a team last night.”

On what he means by “freedom” in Rob’s system:

“I don’t want to talk about past, past systems, past experiences. I want to talk about what Rob has allowed me to do, which is to play with freedom, go forward. I have been able to link up with players again in the attacking third. Again, credit to Rob.”

It truly sounds to me like the team is happy. Certainly, Atlanta United supporters have much to be thrilled about. Is the team perfect? No, but for the first time in a long time it seems like the players are truly getting to go have fun, put their stamp on the matches, and enjoy a true bit of camaraderie again, and that’s translating into results. Martinez is scoring goals, the back three are looking stout, Barco is causing every other team problems, Araujo is quickly showing he’s a massive force to be reckoned with, and Moreno is apparently the Mandalorian. Who knew?

And lastly, shout out to Rob Valentino, you’ve done well, sir.