The wait for an Atlanta United win finally and mercifully came to an end on Saturday night as Five Stripes went on the road and beat defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew, 3-2. Interim manager Rob Valentino earned his first career win as Ezequiel Barco notched a brace and Marcelino Moreno added one to give Atlanta a sorely needed three points. Here are a few thoughts on a relieving and joyous night in Columbus.
- Throwing tactics and systems out of the window for a second, we need to acknowledge the effect Rob Valentino has had on the whole squad. From a purely motivational perspective, everyone has bought in to leaving everything out on the field to finally snap that wretched 12-match winless streak. You couldn’t pick out one bad individual performance from this match because everyone was up for the occasion from the opening whistle and the end result showed it. Who knows how long the Valentino interim reign will last, but for now, he seems to be exactly what this group of players needed to come together as a team. Maybe there’s a freestyle/streetball element to their style of play right now but it’s fun to watch and the overall attitude of the team is carrying them towards a positive progression.
- There were many outstanding performances to spotlight, but none were more surprising than Matheus Rossetto. This was a coming out performance for the Brazilian midfielder who has struggled to find his place in this Atlanta setup since his arrival last winter. This match was undoubtedly his best for the club and surely won him a spot in the starting lineup next to Santiago Sosa for next weekend’s crucial home fixture against LAFC. Rossetto did a brilliant job of being aggressive when receiving possession and pushing the attack forward instead of letting it stall and sputter out. He was clean and decisive on the ball like we haven’t seen before. While in many of his previous performances he would play the safe and predictable pass, he took the much-needed initiative against Columbus and was an absolute revelation. If he can continue this level of play it will do wonders for the entire team going forward.
- The obvious Man of the Match has to go to Ezequiel Barco. When Josef Martinez is unavailable the onus falls on the other Designated Players to step up and become impact players. This is something that has failed to occur many times over and has been a huge weak spot for the club. However, this match just happened to be the moment Barco lifted the team up and put it on his miniscule shoulders. He was as dynamic and forward-thinking as we’ve ever seen him. We’ve seen glimpses of his brilliance like this before. Now it’s just a matter of stringing some consistency together and to keep on having this type of impact on the team. If he does that European clubs will surely start picking up the phone once again.
- It’s been an extremely loooooong and frustrating season and every Atlanta United fan has the right to feel jaded at the current time. However, you have to feel a sense of optimism surrounding the club at the moment. There’s so many factors aligning at seemingly the perfect time. From Josef Martinez returning to his normal goal-getting ways. To Marcelino Moreno emerging as a true impact attacker. To Ezequiel Barco showing signs of finally figuring out he needs to be start player for the team. Not to mention the impending arrival of a dynamic attacking Designated Player in Luiz Araujo. There’s plenty of reason to think this team has all the tools it needs to turn this season around and make a strong push for the playoffs now. Here’s to hoping this is just the start of something special.