Atlanta United continued their incredible run of form on Saturday with a thrilling 3-2 win over D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes jumped up to fifth in the East with their seventh win in their last eight matches. Gonzalo Pineda has this team clicking in all the right ways both on the field and off of it. The results and performances alike are bringing back memories of the best times this club has experienced. Here are a few thoughts on another memorable match early in the Pineda era.
- First and foremost I must give credit where it’s due. Gonzalo Pineda is pulling all of the right strings and this match was a prime example. The decision to give Miles Robinson some much-needed rest was a no-brainer considering how much soccer he’s played over the past several months. However, the timing of the decision is what I was worried about. Perhaps the minor hamstring issue for Anton Walkes played a role in it, but nevertheless, Miles missing this important match didn’t affect the outcome. In fact, it felt like Alan Franco, in particular, stepped up his individual defensive presence in Robinson’s absence and led the back line very well. Pineda also chose to start the match with Luiz Araujo on the bench right after he opened his Atlanta account in style. Another risky decision that paid off as the Brazilian came off the bench and was an absolute handful for a tired D.C. squad. While not a trend we’re likely to see develop, having the pure dynamism of Araujo coming off the bench worked like a charm. No matter what the decision is, Pineda seems to be doing everything right at the moment and you really can’t argue with his methods of success.
- Brad Guzan has endured a lot of criticism for his diminishing performances over the past few years. Personally, I think a lot of that is probably justified as his errors have become more frequent and obvious as time has gone on. However, this was his best overall performance in quite some time. In addition to making several huge saves he understood his role of sweeper keeper and being the last emergency line of defense with his team playing such a high line. There were a handful of moments that D.C. could’ve had a chance on goal if Guzan wasn’t alert and ready to pounce on a ball played behind the three-man back line. Credit to where it’s due as Guzan was really good in this match and played a huge part in securing the three points. There was really nothing he could’ve done on either D.C. goal as they were both absolute Nick DeLeon-esque worldies.
- Once again the four-headed “BAMM” attack was flowing beautifully in this match, especially when the fourth member, Luiz Araujo, entered the fray 10 minutes after halftime. When the Brazilian came on and began running full speed at the D.C. defenders they had no answer for it. It bears repeating that he just brings a truly special element to this attack that is an unequivocal game-changer. Then of course there’s Ezequiel Barco. We’re already running out of superlatives to lay on him as his turn into MLS star has been swift. His performances since returning from the Olympics speak for themselves as he is continuously doing something spectacular on a nightly basis. He took home the Man of the Match award thanks to his stunning free kick in the first half and deft assist to set up Josef Martinez’s 99th goal for the club. There really aren’t many words to describe how much improved Barco has been these last few months. These types of performances almost make you forget how inconsistent his first three-plus season in Atlanta were. If this is his new standard, Atlanta United are in for a glorious end to 2021 and possibly the Barco era. Then, of course, there’s that Marcelino assist on the game-winner. Oh. My. Goodness. That’s really all there is to say. Wow.
VAMOS VAMOS VAMOS, ATL ‼️ pic.twitter.com/QKxa9LpwoB— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 18, 2021
- While the exploits on the field are enough to bring back the great memories of 2017 and 2018, it’s the post-match moments like the above video that really drive home the point. The vibes around the club are fully back and amazing to see. Everyone is enjoying themselves and they’re all playing for each other. That’s the definition of a team and club and it’s a beautiful sight to see. The last two-and-a-half years have been tough on everyone and to see this type of comradery and connection to the fans warms my cold, dead heart. While on paper this team is a middling playoff team, the future looks extremely bright and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single club in all of MLS who wants to come up against Atlanta United come the postseason. The turnaround from where this club was four months ago to now, is truly remarkable. We can only hope this is the new norm.