What a week for Atlanta United! Since my article last Friday, Atlanta has won both games, scored a combined 7 goals, and made both club and MLS history in the process. Luiz Araujo got on the board with an absolute golazo, he sent an Orlando player back home by sliding him down I-75, Josef scored a brace to tally his 85th MLS regular season goal in 100 appearances, and so much more.
This article is going to be chock full of the good stuff and for good reason. Atlanta United is having fun again, and that spells danger for the rest of MLS. The club is putting the right foot forward in every facet of the organization, and the results are showing on the pitch. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, I’m about to catch you up to speed so you can be ready for the match against D.C. United this weekend.
- Atlanta Defeats Orlando 3-0 on Friday
First of all, Atlanta didn’t just beat Orlando; they made them look foolish. After almost two weeks of preparation (but no Josef Martinez or Miles Robinson), Atlanta looked like they were playing against a youth squad. The purple kittens couldn’t figure out what Atlanta was doing for 90 minutes, and nothing sums up that statement better than this:
Luiz Araujo would go on to become an absolute nightmare for Orlando City, and he blew one shot off the far post in what was his closest chance at the time in an Atlanta kit.
It would be an unlikely man, though, that would open up the scoring against Orlando.
George Campbell rolled in completely unchecked and opened up his MLS account with a ninja header. This was a complete surprise to everyone, except apparently his mother, whom he had told he would score a goal as a birthday present on Friday. Campbell stayed consistent on defense as well, slotting in just fine for Atlanta’s backline.
Barco then unofficially notched the second goal, as he slid one into a crowd from a free kick that took some deflections off Nani and Dike. It was listed as an own goal by Dike, but ol’ Zeke found his own way to get one to his name later on in the game, and boy was it something straight out of Argentina.
I have to give Brooks Lennon credit for launching that ball across the pitch to Barco’s feet to start the attack, but the goal was a moment of individual brilliance against Orlando’s backline. I’ll also point out that the quick play between Rossetto, Sosa, and the rest of the team was absolutely devastating to Orlando, and you could tell that the Lions were absolutely not expecting this Atlanta compared to the one they stole points from a few weeks prior. It was fun, attacking soccer that gave the purple team, in their head coaches’ words, “a night to forget.”
2. Atlanta Mauls F.C. Cincinnati on Wednesday Night
The Five Stripes walked back into the Benz on Wednesday night against an opponent that they not only had to beat, but they were expected to beat. Atlanta started the game off admittedly with less control than they had against Orlando, presumably because Sosa was out due to yellow card accumulation. Regardless, somebody decided he’d seen enough of the city of Cincinnati 5 minutes in and
SCORED THE ABSOLUTE BANGER EVERYONE HAD BEEN WAITING FOR no SENT CINCINNATI TO THE NETHER REALM no SLICED THEM UP LIKE HE FLIPPED THE CARD GREEN AT THE BRAZILIAN STEAKHOUSE! Welcome to Atlanta where the playas play, Luiz Araujo!
Now, you may think you’ve seen enough of that goal, but what really puts the cherry on top was the coaching staff’s reaction to this golazo.
And, everyone goes wild ‼️— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 15, 2021
Celebrations from the bench pic.twitter.com/TcpN1uaHWi
Yes, Gonzalo Pineda just walked back to the bench and said, “That was a F&%$ing golazo!” The man just voiced what the entire city was thinking, and he did it looking like the Godfather.
The next 30 minutes or so after Luiz committed a crime against the whole state of Ohio (yes I know that includes Columbus but their time is coming) were much less remarkable compared to the dominant performance they had against Orlando. There was some sloppiness that was encapsulated in an Alan Franco giveaway that probably should have turned the game into 1-1 at that point, but the soccer gods embraced Mr. Franco and he then decided he’d also had enough of young Cincinnati.
We’ll get more into it in a moment, but Alan Franco proceeded to set a club record with three assists in this match. Talk about taking advantage when the moment happens? The likes of Miggy and Gressel never pulled that off, and we all know what their production looked like, but Alan Franco is a center back. In my eyes, that’s how you forget about a dumb mistake and turn right back around and become a game changer. While on this topic, I’ll point out that Atlanta is back to scoring on set pieces, which is an extremely good thing since every team in the league thinks fouling Barco or Mando Moreno is their ticket to slowing our attack down. That particular assist was just the first of Josef’s goals for the night.
The second half saw some adjustments by Gonzo, and it didn’t take long before Josef did what he does best.
You can’t see it from that clip, but the margin of error for Josef there was literally like...an inch. He saw the absolute perfect window to bend it around the defender’s leg and had he taken the shot a second before or after, we’d be watching a deflection. But Josef has that ability to take a breath and slow everything down to put the ball exactly where he wants it, and in such an atmosphere of hype around the Five Stripes right now it’s actually almost underestimated. As a matter of fact, we’ve seen him do it 85 times in regular season games at this point in 100 appearances, which is a record we’ll talk about momentarily. This brace was just classic Josef.
To cap off the game against Cincy (we’re still talking about them?), Ezequiel Barco decided to get in on the action, too, and he rounded out my almost-perfect goal scoring prediction from before the match. So close.
Ok...my score was close but my goal scorers we're off against Orlando.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 15, 2021
ATL 4-1 over Cincy. Josef brace, Araujo banger, aaaaaand....gonna go with Barco again. Mando Moreno with at least one assist.#UniteAndConquer @ATLUTD #VamosATL
And just like that Zeke made it 4-0 and I got like half a cool point or something. Barco’s goal here was the first free kick Atlanta has scored on in regular season since mid-2018. It was the absolute icing on the cake for a fun match and a more dominant second half.
What’s most noticeable from these two games, though, is the impact Gonzalo Pineda is having on his team. They’re having fun, and that translates to performance on the field. That Brazilian Steakhouse celebration with Luiz, Rossetto, and Josef? That wouldn’t have been a thing had Pineda not entered the club as a people person and encouraged his team to have fun and “be people,” i.e. train together, work together...and be friends. That may sound corny, but it leads me to my next point.
3. The Team Becomes a Team Again
I remember hearing of the days when LGP was the “asador,” the grill master for these legendary asados the team attended in 2018 and even 2019. It may be completely irrelevant that the team got together for a similar event before the Cincinnati game, but what’s important to me is seeing this picture:
Levante la mano quien quiere— Atlanta United Fútbol Club (@VamosATLUTD) September 13, 2021
¡La banda invita! pic.twitter.com/KeTNSJPz4G
That is a group of guys who are simply and by all accounts just having fun. I’ve been in just a few leadership roles in my life and I’ve learned one thing: when you have a team that has to lay it all out in one arena, you’ll never unlock their full potential if they have no relationship outside that arena. It just won’t happen. When there are moments like this, though, a team can connect on a stronger level and when they encounter hardship in that particular arena, they can find a way through it together. It isn’t science, it isn’t stat-driven, it’s simply the way we humans are made, and despite what previous coaches may have thought, soccer players are human.
Apparently this all started because Matheus Rossetto has been helping fellow Brazilian Luiz Araujo get settled in Atlanta. Luiz, being the fun guy he is, said “Hey, let’s grill and hang out,” which sounds a lot like a quote of my own every Saturday. They spoke to Josef, who insisted on hosting the shindig, and they invited the rest of the team over. Alan Franco apparently became the new “asador” and the rest is history.
I did offer to bring some giant steaks but Josef didn’t get back to me so...maybe next time?
4. Goal of the Week/Team of the Week/Records
The first thing you have to know about the team of the week is that the games against Orlando and Cincinnati actually consisted of two separate weeks. MLS Team of the Week 24 (after Orlando) saw Barco in the lineup with Campbell on the bench, and Gonzalo Pineda as coach. They all deserve it, but what a great honor for Pineda on his second match in charge, and for Campbell after coming out like a boss.
The Team of the Week 25 (after Cincy) consisted of Josef Martinez and Alan Franco, with Barco on the bench.
Goal of the Week 24 went to Ezequiel Barco for the Messi-esque golazo against Orlando. At the time of this writing, Goal of the Week 25 looks like it might be going to Araujo for his destruction of Cincinnati, but he has some stiff competition. Regardless, these awards have been sparse for Atlanta over the past two years, and it’s wonderful to see our guys getting back into the thick of it.
Also, I have to point out again Alan Franco’s club record of three assists in one game. Additionally, Josef Martinez set an MLS record by notching 85 regular season goals in his first 100 regular season appearances. That absolutely blows away the other competition behind him in the all-time goal race, with the runner-up Lassiter with 69 in 100 apps.
5. Feel-good Story of the Week
So the quick story behind this involves a young man named Caden. About two hours before the match against Cincy, Caden and his father got to check out the booth with Kevin Egan, Mo Edu, Jillian Sakovits, and the broadcast crew for Bally Sports. Caden and his father recently tragically lost Caden’s mother and grandfather, but due to the family’s love of the Five Stripes they didn’t want to give up going to the games they’d so often attended together. Caden’s dad mentioned that they had to hear Caden’s calling of a Josef Martinez goal, so Caden threw on the headset and set about calling a legendary and impromptu sequence of events involving yet another Josef strike.
After the match, Kevin, Mo, and Jillian were talking about Caden and Josef’s second goal of the night, and Mo mentioned how Caden’s play calling would fit perfectly with that particular goal. The Bally Sports team quickly threw Caden’s audio over Josef’s second goal and just like that Caden became a legend.
I can only pray that moment at Mercedes-Benz brought some solace to Caden and his father, albeit brief, and that they feel welcomed and loved by Atlanta and the beautiful game.
So, this was quite a bit to unpack. History was made over the past week, the team is finding a form we haven’t seen in quite some time, and they look incredibly dangerous and ready to fight their way into hosting a home playoff match and winning the MLS Cup. Yeah, I said it. The next stop is D.C. United. Choo-choo, Atlanta, see ya next week.