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Anton Walkes: We Are Enjoying Every Single Moment Right Now

Ya dang right we are, Anton!

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

First off, understand that choosing which quote is going to be the title of the quotes article is probably my most difficult choice on days I write articles (Except the time Marcelino “Mando” Moreno said “This is the way,” that was easy). So when I say it’s worth checking out these quotes below, know that Gonzalo Pineda, Anton Walkes, and Ezequiel Barco all said quite a few “title-worthy” statements after Atlanta United beat D.C. United. Anton Walkes alone mentioned a few points that I feel are really important, but I ultimately felt that him stating how much the team is enjoying every moment right now is paramount. Why? They’re having fun. And not because they’re winning. They’re winning BECAUSE they’re having fun, and it took a series of mistakes, flops, lessons learned, and finally repentance to get to this point. Now everyone is reaping the rewards.

Gonzalo Pineda mentions his reason below as to why he kept Miles Robinson out of the lineup and why he didn’t start Luiz Araujo. Hilariously enough, he also brought the numbers to explain exactly his decision with Miles as if he knew he was presenting a book report to the teacher and had to cite his sources. He also goes into detail about the changes made around the half with Campbell and Araujo, which clearly worked out fairly well.

Anton Walkes, though. I wish they’d just give this man a microphone and let him talk for a while. He was asked about Luiz Araujo and he said when they get the ball to him they just sit back and watch, and if that doesn’t resonate with fans I don’t know what will.

Barco got a bit heartfelt when speaking about his time at Atlanta and his struggles when he first arrived. Plus, he tells the entire world that Lionel Messi is the only perfect footballer, so I’m really glad that argument has finally been squashed. Check out below to read all the post-match quotes.

Atlanta United FC head coach Gonzalo Pineda

On the importance of winning today’s match…

“It was very important. A perfect week, nine points out of nine, scoring 10 goals, I think it was great. Even though I told the players, we never like to concede goals, what I liked was the reaction. At 2-1, you could see the mentality of the team. You could see them continue playing, continue fighting, continue winning goals, and then they created a few more chances. That’s the response I want to see. That’s the response that’s going to put us in a good place, and I loved that. I could test the mentality of the team, and the mentality’s good. I really think that it was a big improvement. Many congrats to D.C. They’re a fantastic team. I think they are aggressive; they are fast. They are looking for chances to go direct and attack as soon as possible. It was an entertaining game. Congrats to their coach. He’s done a great job. But for my team, I’m very happy with their reaction. That’s what I’m happiest – the most (about).”

On Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez …

“Look, Josef is a warrior. He is a fantastic player that has been struggling with many, many things in this knee. The traveling to the international games, always, probably, is not the best timing, and that carried on a little bit in his knee. I was a little worried about that, but he’s a warrior. I told him, ‘Hey, if you feel something, you let me know. I’ll pull you out,’ and he competed as a warrior. They’re testing him now. I think he’s OK. I think he’s just sore. Three games, he played on turf, I think is not easy for him and all of the injuries that he has had in that knee. What I’m very pleased with, again, is having a warrior that cares about the team, that care about the club and continues performing and playing even though he had a little bit of an issue.”

On if he was happy with how the team reacted to D.C. United…

”At times. I felt like, at times, we were attacking the spaces that we wanted to attack out of the 5-3-2 that D.C. presented today. I felt like, at times, we could do better. That’s what I just told them. We could continue the improvement after we reflect after the film, in these types of games, how we can attack better. But overall, I felt like that we created enough chances and enough opportunities out of good fútbol. Connecting passes in between the lines and attacking the back – that balance is the ones that gave us many chances to score goals. That balance of when to play in between the lines and when to go in behind, so those counter movements and looking at creating, especially on the left side or right side, I felt it was very good. On the left side, we were connecting better in between the lines. There was a bit of an imbalance there. So, I’m happy, but still looking for more opportunities to improve.”

On substituting George Campbell off…

“George was a little bit tired. He looked to me a little bit tired. I didn’t want to risk anything with him. That was thought process, but at the same time, I wanted to be a little bit more aggressive on the right side. I wanted to put two sprinters on their left side with Luiz Araújo matching up a little bit (with Antonio) Alfaro and then Brooks Lennon against (Kevin) Paredes and then see how that went. Obviously, that was a bit of a risk because we were man-for-man on the back for the centerbacks, but I was willing to take that risk because I felt that we would score in the third since we had big chances. It was a little bit of a risk, I will reflect on that one. I felt at the end of the day, Luis created a couple very good chances on that side, and Marcelino (Moreno) was created on the right side for the third goal. I felt, overall, it worked pretty well. ”

On Miles Robinson…

“I have the stats. We gave Miles a little bit of a rest. Why? Because from July 11 to September 15 or 66 days, he played 16 game. Minutes played, 1025 minutes. He played an average of almost every four days. The miles, in air travel, is 16,395 miles, so that’s a lot. My sports science, which I’m very proud of the sports science department that we have, they gave me this data that we have, and I said, we need to give him a break. It’s not just playing a game. He’s young. He could have probably played this game. … It’s about the mind. I’m concerned. He’s had a lot of stress – gold cups, then another tournament, then these qualifying games, and he’s had a lot of stress in his mind, I really wanted to ease that path for him. At the same time, I am very happy that I have the ability to do that because I have other players that have been performing fantastically. George Campbell is one of those. Anton Walkes, Alan Franco, Alex De John, we needed it from him today. He has done fantastic. That’s the mentality I want from the team. It doesn’t matter who plays, we have to play the same style. They are doing that. They are buying into that idea, and that’s why I’m happy. Not just giving the rest to Miles, but also giving the opportunities to others to perform.”

On if it was a similar reason to why he did not start Luiz Araújo today…

“Yes. I forgot that data. We also have that data. That was a real concern about him 100 percent. That’s one of the reasons I played (Matheus) Rossetto. Rossetto was playing very good, but they haven’t played since a long time ago – two games in three days. So, I was little bit concerned about that that’s why I rested Luiz, but also I knew in the second half, with fresh legs, with open space and in transition, he could help us. He could be very dangerous. It was a little bit of a good card to have in the back of my pocket to use at the end of the game, and I found that it worked very well.”

On his part in Ezequiel Barco’s recent form:

“Not at all. I will never take that credit because it is all [Ezequiel] Barco. It is all Barco. I do not know how he trained before or how he played before, I could not see it, but what I have noticed since I got here is I can see a very hungry player. A guy who wants more, and more, and more, and he is always looking for opportunities, not just in the games, but in training sessions to impact the attack. That is what I have seen from him, so this is about him and his mentality. Again, I think he is a bit more mature too, taking more responsibilities at the right time, and he also looks a bit more professional, like a more mature player who knows what he is doing on and off the field. All of that combined should be Barco’s credit, and that is why we are seeing this Barco. And again, I don’t think we are seeing the best Barco yet, I think he can still give us more opportunities, because he is super talented and his ceiling super high, and I hope he can reach that ceiling by the end of this season.”

On if he was expecting Barco to shoot from the free kick:

“We just practiced that one. No, I am just kidding. I just told [Ezequiel] Barco that that is exactly what we have been working on, but it is not, that was all him again and the confidence that he has in his abilities. Again, his confidence, his mentality, he has always had that talent, and we all saw that since day one when he just joined the league. His mentality and how he approached those moments with confidence, taking those risks, and his performance, so it is all him.”

On his preferred shape, system, and personnel for this team:

“Welcome to my world, because that is always in the back of my mind; what is the best shape for the team that includes the best players in the best positions. Honestly, I am working on that. I cannot tell you now. I told everyone at the very beginning that I wanted to be more consistent in the lineups and formations to give them more stability, so I have to reflect on that because we are rotating a little bit here and there, but it is working, and we have to manage the fitness levels for everyone and keep the intensity on the field. But also, at times, I think that we can be a fluid team that can go from a back five with two center midfielders and one, to a diamond in the middle, which is how we tried to start today with just Josef [Martinez] up front, sometimes a 5-2-1-2 like we tried last week. I think we have a fluid team that can work out of different tactical shapes, and again, the tactical shape does not matter. It is about the principles, the style, and the characteristics of the players that make a team be successful or not. So, I am not really concerned about that, but I am concerned about finding the right spots every game for my players so they can perform at a high level. That is all I am concerned about.”

Atlanta United Defender Anton Walkes:

On what it says that defense limited DC United’s top scorer to one shot:

“I’d consider it a good job considering we conceded two goals. If you look at the goals though, they are two pretty good goals. So, yeah looking back on it we did really good. I think in the form he (Ola Kamara) was coming in after scoring a hat-trick last time out, he probably was feeling on top of the world coming into today. We put that fire out and it’s on to the next one for us.”

On if he feels like this team is ready to contend for a title this year:

“Compared to where we was after I spoke to you guys earlier in the year, we are in a lot better position now. Again, I take it game by game. That worked for us when things were going bad, so we need to continue that mindset now when things are going good. We are climbing up the standings. I looked after the game, it’s getting to that time of year where it’s important. We sit in fourth now pending results of other games tonight. Again, we are in a playoff position now and hopefully we will just continue to keep pushing now and get as high as we can.”

On if there is a renewed belief in this group now:

“The belief is definitely there. It’s showing in our performances. I think it was always there, but it’s hard to show that when you are coming off a loss or after a bad performance and try to convince some people of that belief because they are angry in that moment. The momentum has shifted with what’s gone on in our facility, with the new coaching staff coming in. I think you saw it under Rob, it was pretty evident, and we’ve just been clicking as a group and we are enjoying every single moment right now.”

On the confidence of guys like Barco or Moreno:

“I don’t know. They have the quality to do so. Confidence does play a part and right now they have been fantastic. We are going to keep encouraging that confidence because right now they are carrying the team. They are great examples of what its like to shift the momentum within the team. Questions were being asked of all of us earlier this year, now we are silencing those critics. But the job is not finished yet.”

On if the team is ready to play their style regardless of who the opponent is:

“We have to or we shouldn’t be representing Atlanta United. That’s the identity of this club. We need to carry it. There is pressure on us every night. That’s part of our job. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else tonight. I’m very fortunate to be in this position with this club, I’m sure others feel that way to.”

On the fitness level of this team:

“I’m going to start with what our gaffer has done. He’s found guys rest when they have needed it. He’s very understanding. He’s played in the league, he understands the physical demands. You don’t want to be a team that plays well all year and doesn’t win in the playoffs. That’s very good. We know the pressure is on. We want to be the last team standing. We have the perfect coach, we have the guys on this team to accomplish that. Hopefully we will stay healthy and be ready for the playoff push.”

On Luiz Araujo’s quality and adding him to the team:

“Give him the ball and just back off. I think we figured that out against Cincinnati. It was a great goal. We need to continue to do that and encourage that. He’s got great quality. It feels like he can score a goal almost every time he goes on a run. I’m just standing back and watching him and I can see how many guys are trying to stop him. That will cause a problem in the defense because eventually someone else is going to be free in front of goal.”

Atlanta United forward Ezequiel Barco

On if anything changed since going to the Olympics:

“I’ve said it before, but at the beginning of the season I came into the year with a new way of thinking. I was very convinced to start well and have a good year in Atlanta. At the Olympics unfortunately we weren’t able to advance. But after I came back motivated to help the team and at the time we were going through a difficult moment. I’ve been preparing myself to be well physically and mentally and able to help the team in the best way I can.”

On how teammates and the coaching staff is helping him succeed this season:

“Of course. I think the team and the coaching staff do a great and strong job training all week, and that is reflected on the day of the game. I think today we played a great game and showed what we can do but we have to keep it up because there’s still a lot left.”

On if Atlanta has the talent and belief to win a title:

“Of course. I think in the last 10 or 11 games the team shown a complete change. You show it on the field, winning and with results. I think this team, if we keep playing this way, can compete for the league and that’s the goal. I don’t have any doubt that we’ll be fighting for everything.”

On the special moment he’s in and playing with confidence

“Yes, I’m very happy in Atlanta. With the team and the whole coaching staff. I’m very happy and in a good moment where I’m happy. It was tough for me to find happiness in Atlanta and today as I said my teammates and all the people at the club are helping me to be comfortable, calm and with confidence.”

On how the players decide who takes the free kicks

“It’s a decision that we make out there. The only decision that the coach makes is that Josef (Martínez) will take penalties but at the time of a free kick, we always decide in the moment. If Marcelino (Moreno) is confident he’ll take it, or me, depending on how we feel at the moment.”

On Pineda’s comments that we haven’t seen the best version of Barco yet and what he thinks he can improve on

“There are always things to improve. The only one who’s perfect is Messi. We always have things to improve and game-by-game those lessons come but as I said today the team did a great job, the 11 players and everyone on the bench and that’s what will help us to fight.”

Also, if you want to see what I meant about the guys having fun, how about this as a possible new tradition? And to be there and see the way the team and fans were able to connect’s something for real.