Atlanta United traveled to the
city of tactical time-wasting city of brotherly love on Saturday and played a sloppy, lethargic match to a 1-0 loss. The energy was never there from the moment the whistle blew and Philadelphia was able to pounce on that stagnation and make the game theirs. Honestly, the only Atlanta player who truly looked ready to play a soccer match was Brad Guzan, who was clearly unhappy with the way the game played out. Just as he says below, it’s a frustrating feeling when the talent is clearly on the field, but the mindset felt like it got left behind in Atlanta. The good news is the team clearly received some kind of “we’re not gonna do that again” conversation in the locker room before the post-match interviews, and Brad Guzan alluded to that when he spoke.
I’ll also point out that it was very gentlemanly of everyone in the press conference to not mention Jim Curtin’s clear instructions to time-waste, which is a tactic all of MLS watches him do match after match. Pretty sure there’s a rule in the books for that, I think? I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but I can see why Gabriel Heinze was irritated with him and that “strategy” when they met earlier this year. At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t Curtin’s conduct that caused Atlanta to lose the match, it was a mixture of all the points you’ll see Gonzalo Pineda, Brad Guzan, and Anton Walkes mention below.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the lack of intensity in first half:
“I will have to reflect on that. I will reflect first on myself if the preparation was good. Did we prepare the players in any way, whether its physical, tactical or mental preparation. I have to go with my staff and reflect on what we did. After that, I agree with you that there was a complete lack of intensity on and off the ball in the first half. I felt that the second half as a little better. We were a little more intense and they wanted to attack more, but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough and we lost a very very important game.”
On team remaining humble and if not having Josef Martinez had anything to do with today’s loss:
“I think not having Josef Martinez is not easy. He’s a top class forward that’s important to us. But that’s not an excuse. We have to be better even without Josef. We have to create more chances and have to get better movement with the ball. We didn’t do that today. That’s it. Not too much drama, I understand the importance of this game but we need to regroup and reflect as a group what we can do better. Then go out and try to perform on Wednesday vs. Miami.”
On what Philadelphia was doing well to out-shoot Atlanta tonight:
“I mentioned it before that we were not creating enough chances, we weren’t shooting enough. I have to reflect on that. I felt that at times in second half, we had possession of the ball and got into wide areas but no one was inside the box. That’s a reason I brought on Jackson Conway. We needed that reference point inside the box so we could have someone to finish the plays when we got in the wide areas. I have to give credit to Philadelphia because they were intense, fighting for every second ball to put our defenders under pressure. They have their style and a way of playing and they get good result today with it so credit to them.”
On Brad Guzan’s performance:
“I felt he was massive today. He made at least three very good saves, one in the first half. I feel like Brad is continuously performing at that level. I like that Brad Guzan can save us at any moment, but I would prefer if the other keeper is the one receiving a lot of shots on him and a lot of chances against. Football is like that. Which team wants to create more chances to play. I think Philadelphia created more chances and we didn’t create enough today.”
On the performance from his attacking midfielders today:
“I think today they weren’t sharp. They know that. They had a couple touches, they weren’t connecting and they weren’t sharp. I will reflect on that again if tactics had something to do with that. With them not being close enough to combine or create chances from their passing. I would like to see more intensity, just play-and-move, play-and-move more. Because many times today we wanted the ball into our feet. The few times we stretched in behind, the delivery wasn’t good enough. That was the game. We need to hold the ball better, and give those players options. Whether it’s runs in behind or the wingbacks overlapping. Obviously, if we have Josef in our lineup Wednesday, that’s going to change our tactics. We know how Josef plays. But we need to combine better.”
On if players are hitting wall because of point of season we are in:
“I hope not. I hope that’s not the case. I have to watch our session and how we can prepare better for the next game. Give them a full recovery day tomorrow, maybe more the day after so they are fresher for Wednesday’s match. I have to do whatever I can to help the players and make them successful. That’s my job. We weren’t sharp on Thursday’s session, and that’s a bit my worry that the session wasn’t good enough leading into today. We will reflect on that.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan
If he can assess why team struggled today
“I don’t know if you can ever put your finger on it when you come out the way we did today. Plain and simple, it wasn’t good enough. We talked about this being a playoff game. We talked about raising the intensity, making sure we had the right mentality. And from the first whistle, we were on the back foot, we were sloppy with the ball, and our work rate wasn’t good enough from start to finish to deserve anything from the game. And ultimately, we were punished in the second half.
On the team’s adjustments in the second half
“I mean listen, take the tactics out of it. When you don’t bring the intensity and mentality that you need to compete in these games, especially on the road in MLS. So that part is frustrating because we had such a great week last week in terms of results, in terms of performances, being on the front foot, being lively. So then to come out the way we did, that part is frustrating. I think if you look at the first half, at one point their front line was probably playing 15-20 yards in our half. That’s going to impossible to get out of the spaces like that when there’s 21 guys 15 yards in our own half trying to build up. And never once did we threaten behind until the 43rd minute when Miles [Robinson] played the ball over the top for Marcelino [Moreno]. Next thing you know, he’s one-on-one in the box. I know that’s not a real chance, it’s a half chance, but listen, now there’s a threat behind them and you force them to think that they can’t just camp out inside our own half. So we can talk about tactics, we can talk about the midfield, we can talk about whatever – for me it wasn’t about that, and that’s why it’s frustrating. It’s down to us as players to make sure that we come in with the right mentality and the right energy that is needed for these games. We talked about this being a playoff game. You can tell I’m pissed now. It’s frustrating because I know we have the quality; I know we have the ability to do this. And then we come out and think we’re untouchable and we’re playing at – generously – 50 percent. And that’s not going to cut it in this league.”
On how much losing Josef on the field hurts the tactically part of the game plan
“Regardless if Josef’s here or not, we know what he brings to the team. We know his intensity, we know his competitiveness, his willingness to win and his want to win, his desire, his passion. He certainly brings that to the group, but when he’s not on the field, we need to find a way to make sure we still have that. Again, you talk about guys wanting the ball at their feet, and guys pressing. I don’t even think it was a case of them pressing us in such a great way where we couldn’t get out of it. We’re taking a touch and a guy is taking it off our foot and then they’re running at goal. Or we take a sloppy touch and they’re winning the ball and running at goal. So for me, it wasn’t necessarily about them pressing us, it was our sloppiness and unwillingness to compete in such a huge game.
On turning the page and focusing on Miami
“We’ve already talked about that. We need to put this game behind us. We have to move on, we have to reflect on it, but we have to move on because the game Wednesday is huge, plain and simple. It’s easy to talk about it. But we need to make sure that come Wednesday when we cross the white line, that we’re ready for an absolutely battle. Because they know that their playoffs hopes are on the line and ours are as well. The margins are so fine. So we need to make sure that in all aspects of the game, we’re ready to compete. And I believe we will be. We need to make sure that we’re ready to compete. We talked about understanding that this afternoon wasn’t good enough. That isn’t acceptable and we need to make sure we correct that.
Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes
On the lack of intensity by the team today:
“I could say fatigue, but we had enough time to recover. Could say complacency, could say lack of good fortune. I think we just have to take time now on flight home to reflect. I have to reflect on my performance and situations in the game. We didn’t cope well with their intensity today, so we definitely need to reflect and get ready for Wednesday.”
On the training sessions this week improving:
“I think we always go out there and give our best in terms of how committed we are. There was times this week where coach Gonzalo mentioned that our intensity wasn’t there and we had plenty of opportunities in sessions before we arrived in Philadelphia. We dropped points today. It hurts right now. We have another opportunity in midweek to make things right.”
On the players needing to push further this time of year:
“Of course. If you are going to be successful, you have to find that little bit extra. We didn’t do that today. Fortunately, it’s something we do have in our locker. We need to make things right. The games are coming very quickly and it’s the business end of the year. We know what we strive for and were fortunate enough to turn things around.”
It’s obviously a disappointing result for Gonzalo Pineda’s first away game, but the team can’t focus on the past and they have to set their eyes on the upcoming home match against Miami on Wednesday. At the time of this writing Atlanta sits at 8th in the east, so the next few matches have suddenly become much more important. After seeing the way the team played today and then hearing the insight from the quotes, it sounds like they need a solid break for two days, a positive and successful training session on Tuesday, and a good pep talk on Wednesday before the game. Sometimes you have to have a short memory in these situations, dig deep to find the energy you had when everything was working, and get back at it stronger.