It’s been another busy week in the world of the Five Stripes, which is refreshing when you think the team actually only played one match. So much news is coming out of the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground throughout the week that there’s constantly a connection back to the fans. This week, though, it all started with Atlanta United prevailing against D.C. United 3-2 on Saturday in a very entertaining home game that had three goal-of-the-week nominations and like...five souls stolen by Marcelino “Mando” Moreno. Unfortunately, Josef exited the match with a bit of a limp and his status wasn’t truly confirmed for a frighteningly long time, but the team has recently given an update on his condition.
Atlanta United 2 suffered a rough defeat at the hands of Birmingham Legion, which may have interesting playoff implications, while the club’s supporters were treated to a completely different club culture throughout the entire week. In fact, quite a few players had birthdays this week (lots of cake to the face), but it was the supporters who were offered some rather unexpected gifts. That being said, here are the four things to know about Atlanta United this week!
- Atlanta defeats D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
After beating Orlando and Cincinnati a few days prior, the Five Stripes met up with a D.C. side who was coming off a trouncing of Chicago. It was always going to be a bit of a litmus test for Atlanta to see if they could keep the momentum going against a rather stubborn team who is also fighting for a playoff spot. They pulled it off, and in a more dominant fashion than the score would suggest. It all started with this absolute golazo from Barco, which also won goal of the week:
This golazo blew the roof off Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The place was already full of energy from the past two months of Atlanta rediscovering its identity, and this felt like a truly special moment for Barco. He hit a free kick last week to top off a walloping of Cincinnati, but this one felt like a true game-changer for him and the team. His amazing form since coming back from the Olympics has been nothing short of brilliant, but what makes it so special is his confidence and consistency. It also gave him another appearance in the team-of-the-week. This goal made it 1-0, and then the Venezuelan Viper (thanks Caden) made his move shortly after the half:
JOSEF MARTINEZ...SENSATIONAL pic.twitter.com/fA5IDo6kHw— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 18, 2021
A beautiful goal by Josef with a perfectly weighted pass by Barco, what more can you ask for? Well, if you watch closely, you can see Bill Hamid (D.C. keeper) absolutely thunder punch one of his teammates right in the tenders out of pure frustration. Shortly after that you can see Bill running back to him to check on the poor man to make sure he wasn’t dying. But surprisingly, that wasn’t the angriest Hamid got during this match. That’s because after D.C. made it 2-1 on a golazo, Marcelino “Mando” Moreno decided he was going to send half of D.C.’s team to the Outer Rim planets. Y’all, this moment was something special:
I was at this match in the supporter’s section right behind that goal, and the whole stadium was in the middle of the viking clap when Mando started his run. And then he kept running. And kept running. And then the roar got louder and louder as he approached the goal, and he kept coming, and the whole thing seemed like slow-motion because everyone in the stadium seemed to be thinking “How is he still going?” He absolutely embarrassed D.C. United, put a goal on a platter for George Bello, and didn’t even watch when the goal was scored. Personal injection here, Mando is one of my favorite players. He comes in, does work on folks, and goes home. And steals souls in the process.
D.C. then snuck in another long range goal during extra time to make the final score 3-2, but it was clear Atlanta dominated the match. The final whistle blew, but the fans had another surprise waiting...
2. The supporters are treated to an entirely new culture
D.C. left the field and the Five Stripes started their victory lap around the pitch. But then they took a weird turn and started towards the capo stand in the supporter’s section. It was massively confusing at first, until this happened:
VAMOS VAMOS VAMOS, ATL ‼️ pic.twitter.com/QKxa9LpwoB— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 18, 2021
Yes, that’s the team up there celebrating and chanting right alongside the supporters. Alan Franco has the speaker, and the guys are just enjoying the whole experience. It was a surreal, unexpected moment, and one that brought the connection between player and fan to an entirely new level.
A couple of days later, members of Atlanta United’s supporter groups were invited to watch practice in Marietta. They had the opportunity to march in, throw out the flags and banners, take pictures with the team, and valiantly attempt to get Darren Eales to take a shot of Malibu. Gonzalo Pineda addressed the supporters, and once again the club showed that it’s rediscovering its identity; it’s finding fun as a club, which is leading to results on the field.
It’s very clear at this point Gonzalo Pineda’s desire to connect with every part of this club, from his players to the supporters and everyone in between. He’s doing an outstanding job both on and off the field. It’s a wonderful thing to have a coach who is so involved in the wellbeing of the team culture as a whole. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Some TL members and Coach Pineda at the AU2 match tonight. pic.twitter.com/csNPu9psYi— Terminus Legion (@TerminusLegion) September 23, 2021
I’ll get to the details of the Atlanta United 2 match in a bit, but this needed to be mentioned in this section. Gonzalo Pineda probably could’ve taken the night off on Wednesday. The man has a family, obviously, but he popped up once again doing amazing things for this club. He showed up at the Atlanta United 2 match in Kennesaw to show support and presumably check out some of the younger team, and it’s just awe-inspiring how invested he is here. But what amazes me is the fact that despite clearly being able to get down in the trenches with Jack Collison, or at least nearby, he chose to head over to where the supporters were sitting and fall right in. He’s making this team feel so relatable, and it’s just brilliant.
3. Josef Martinez overloads his knee
At the end of the D.C. match Saturday, Josef Martinez was seen spending a lot of time with the medical crew. We’re all too aware of the ramifications of an ACL tear, and Josef hurt his only 18 months ago. He’s been ballin’ nonstop it seems for a couple of months now, including his time for the club and the most recent national team call-up. It doesn’t help that he played a significant amount of time over the course of a week on turf, which tends to be a bit more wearing on the legs as opposed to grass. Regardless of how it happened, no one could initially give any good answers as to his status. Gonzo kept saying that the issue didn’t appear to be serious, but he wasn’t entirely sure at the time. Early in the week, Josef showed up to training and then left early because he “felt something.”
Josef Martinez has “knee overload”according to Gonzalo Pineda. Exams came back with no great concerns. Josef’s status is day-to-day for Saturday’s game vs the Union.— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) September 23, 2021
The team played it safe, and Gonzo came out recently and informed everyone that it just appeared to be “overloaded” from the work and congestion over the past few weeks. We’ll see what happens this weekend, but I would be surprised if Josef even makes the plane trip to Philadelphia for the match. The rest of the attack is clicking really well, so it just makes sense to give the man a break to heal up and prepare for a grind through the playoffs to the MLS Cup.
Speaking of a grind, Josef is now one goal away from 100 in all competitions for Atlanta United. He clearly wanted that 100th in the match against D.C. as he came agonizingly close in the final minutes, but those runs probably didn’t help his knee situation any. No matter what, let’s pray he gets the rest he needs to get back out and make history again.
4. Atlanta United 2 falls hard against Birmingham Legion
The 2’s needed this home win before they go on a rather long road trip. Prior to the match they were sitting just a couple of points out of playoff contention, but a stubborn Birmingham side just didn’t want to concede anything after going up 1-0. Opportunities were available for Atlanta United 2, but as Gonzalo Pineda has said before, sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in. The 1-0 score stood for the majority of the game, until Atlanta tried to put numbers forward to at least pull away a point from the match. The plan backfired, however, and Birmingham notched 3 more to make the final 4-0. Obviously it wasn’t the plan the young ones had in mind for their playoff chances, not to mention the fact that the first team coach was watching, but the loss wasn’t for lack of trying.
David Mejia was a wonderful spark coming off the bench, and Darwin Matheus seems to come up with opportunities multiple times in every match. As a matter of fact, Matheus has been a consistent threat all year on the attack, while falling back as a solid defender when needed. Atlanta United 2 now embarks on a trip to bring a few points home with them to try and reach their first USL playoff spot.
So there ya have it, folks, the four things to know about Atlanta United this week! It’s always a pleasure doing the recap, and here’s to the upcoming week against Philly and Miami. The Five Stripes still have plenty of work to do to secure a playoff spot, but the team couldn’t be clicking at a more perfect time. Vamos!