Atlanta United cycled back into the win column in what started as a dominating performance but turned into a tense exchange against newcomers Charlotte FC. This match had all the makings of a title fight, with plenty of trash-talking and shenanigans going down in the days leading up to the first match between the Kings of the South and...those other folks. See Atlanta United’s “page not found” on their website:
Whether this gets called a rivalry yet or not, the match had plenty of ingredients to make it so. Osvaldo Alonso showing what he’s about by sending a message and taking a yellow card, Josef burying a penalty, Charlotte gaining a bit of hope, and Mando > Jake Mulraney dashing that hope at the literal last minute all made for an entertaining and enjoyable match. And no, those would not be my choice words if this game had ended in a draw.
Gonzalo Pineda, Jake Mulraney, and Ozzie Alonso took a few moments in the post-match press conference to speak about the lineups, the shape, Jake’s desire to be a starter, Almada’s positioning, Ozzie’s recent heart scare, and his implementation into the team. Here are all the quotes from Atlanta’s win over Charlotte FC.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
On today’s performance and the difference in second half:
“First of all, congrats to Charlotte, they are a very good team. I like their proposal, their identity that Coach Ramirez is bringing to Charlotte. It’s always fun to play against teams that want to play out of the back, want to build and play good football. I appreciate that and they were a good opponent today. I think in the first half we probably played better. We had a lot of possession, about 70% in first half, and created chances. The adjustments they made in the second half was to almost go man-for-man in certain parts and it took us a while to break that down. We needed to find the solution, like we did with the ball in behind to Brooks (Lennon) on the PK. The space was in behind and I think the response was good by the team once we figured that out.
Then, with the goal they scored off a set piece again, they gained some momentum and confidence. After that, the reaction from my team is what I love. The reaction by the players, on the field and on the bench. That was a massive positive. That passion, that intensity winning duels and tackles, sending the message but also continue playing. That’s what we saw at the end. It’s a good reward to see that goal from Jake Mulraney to win the game.”
On the changes and substitutions he made in the second half:
“Yes, I think there were different layers to that decision. Number one, Marcelino could have started the game. That’s one we reflected a lot on how to start the game. What I felt that because Marcelino (Moreno) didn’t train any of the six weeks that we did in pre-season, it’s too early -already- to put him at the very, very high intensity at the beginning of the game. And then we play him 60-70 minutes, I would probably prefer him to play those 30-35 minutes that he played at a higher intensity, when the pace of the game is a little bit lower so that he can impact better the game. And I can do that, I have the luxury to do that because Tyler (Wolff), and Brooks (Lennon), and Amar (Sejdic) they are performing very well, so I trust them. But at the same time that was a reflection, Thiago (Almada) was a bit different.
Obviously, Thiago - I’m more conservative maybe, on that. Let’s see how I can progress him into a 90 minutes player - because he will be for sure. But I have to be careful with how I manage his minutes so that he has the right path for success. Same as Marcelino (Moreno) - at that moment, I thought that I needed a little more creativity in that part of the field - more quality a little bit on those failed passes. I mean, we were in the right spots, but maybe not delivering the right type of passes and that’s the reason why they came very early in the second half.
On Brad Guzan and Josef Martinez’s performance today:
“Yes, it’s something I am very proud of is those two veteran players that we have that can say that almost in the opposite sides of the field - one saving goals and one scoring goals. But at the same time, both are buying into the idea of - Brad (Guzan) is the first attacker, Brad (Guzan) is the one that it starts - I will build-up, I will play off the goal kicks and he’s the first one in possession in our team. But at the same time Josef, yes we want him to score goals - but he is the first one to press the goalkeeper, press the center back. He is the first defender in our unit and he is embracing that - So I am very proud of what they have come together like- as two of the leaders on the team - to do whatever it takes to win games. And that’s something I am very happy and proud of - of those two.
On managing your players and teamwork:
“What a good question, I think that it takes time and work. My job is to show off those individuals and to place them in their best positions to be successful and to conjugate them to be successful. In that route there are lots of things that you try to perceive. There are times that a player is individually more superior than the other but the combination of two gives you much better results and those combinations that you can generate, those small societies that you can generate are things that one needs to be paying attention in each training, to be looking at different exercises, putting them in different situations to try and get them ready for different situations that can happen on the weekend and from there see their responses to the different functions.
So we would need to work a lot, reflect as coaches, be humble and think that the players can have better solutions than one, but the most important is the work and dedication.
On Almada and his position:
“Another great question, what do you think? I would like to know opinions. Look, it’s complicated to say where he will be playing, especially today. The reason why I do not know, if you take a look at our team it’s really changing. Sometimes we like rotations and then, Tyler Wolff for example, started as a left winger but with the rotations that we did, he would end up behind Josef because that’s where there was space and Almada ended more inside as a left attacking midfielder (enganche) and Andrew Gutman would become a winger. In those rotations I have thought to put at the same time Thiago and Marcelino who are similar players.
Like today, how do we put them? It’s something that I still must see training after training and see where they seem to be more comfortable. And how we can combine them with other players, but evidently, they are players that can work as both. Marcelino and Thiago can play as a 10 in a 4-2-3-1, winger, they can play on the left in a 4-3-3 the importance is that have several players that can play different positions.”
Atlanta United winger Jake Mulraney:
On the phrase ¨luck of the Irish” and is that saying used in Ireland?
“I mean I know it´s a saying but I don’t think it’s common… no… I don’t think it’s common. “
On his play and what he saw on the goal:
“I just remember, I remember like I had a lot of space in 1v1. Moreno was still over the top and got around it and by the time he got there, it was outside the box 1v1. so as I got 1v1 inside the box and he shot on my left, so drop the shoulder and shifted and had a pop.”
On what does this mean possibly for the rest of your season after your goal and your debut?:
“Like I said I’m trying to get goals, help with assists, and help the team any way I can. Whether that’s on the bench or starting, I just want to help the team.
On what did Pineda say to you when you came out on the pitch today?:
“You’re going on right-wing. Brooks is going way back *laughs*
On his role on the team:
“To be honest, it’s not a role I want. I don’t want to be always coming off the bench. I want to be playing. I want to be starting and I want to be giving the managers headaches and I want to be putting my name out there so I can start. But I have to earn that. I have to do the things I did today and I have to do, even more. I can’t just do it now and be quiet for a few games. I have to keep doing it and giving the managers headaches.”
Atlanta United midfielder Ozzie Alonso:
On how it felt to be back out there today after last week’s health scare:
“Yeah, I traveled to Colorado and they came to me and said I had to stop playing because they wanted to check my heart a little more. After that, I came back here and then went to New Jersey and Boston for additional tests. I’m happy to be back. Everything was good, that’s why I played today.”
On having a greater appreciation for playing:
“Yeah, but like I said before. They did the tests and everything went right. I went to Boston and New Jersey to do more tests. Came back into training and like I said before, I was happy to be back on the field. It was more important for me to be safe and I’m here and excited to be playing again. It was a real scare for me last week, but I’m really excited to be playing again.”
On if this was first time he experienced something like this health wise:
“No, in Seattle I had to do more tests. My heart is bigger than normal, so every year I had to do more testing. That’s why when I came here, I do the tests every year and they found this out.”
On the team dominating play with several players still out of lineup:
“I think everyone on the team is capable of playing at any moment. We have 25-30 players that can play. We started this game today and played good, especially in the first half. We created a lot of chances, but unfortunately they scored in the second half and it was a little tough. But we found a way to win in the last minutes. I’m very happy with for my teammates, for the team, for the performance we had to today to get all three points.”
On what Charlotte did to knock Atlanta out of rhythm:
“They have a good team. They are losing 1-0 and they have to push higher. They scored on a set piece and the game is 1-1. At that moment the game is difficult and they have some momentum. But we kept the ball and continued to play. We are at home and so we were going for three points. In the end, we make a good play and scored the goal.”
On being a Cuban soccer player in Atlanta and having a string fan base supporting him:
“I’m extremely happy with the community here in Atlanta. I was in Seattle and one day I decided to go for it. The moment I stepped foot on the field I knew I had the opportunity to work with the team and with great fans. I’m extremely happy to be here.”
On why it’s important to have a safe and enjoyable fan environment:
“Everyone is out here to enjoy their time. There are many families with kids that want to enjoy their time. We put our part and I hope we continue to do that. For me soccer is being able be happy in the moment, to enjoy your time with your family, and a chance for you to get out of the house whether if it’s a Saturday or Sunday.”
On how his teammates have treated him:
“Everything has been incredible since I got here. We’re all from different places and we formed a family. I’ve been happy since the first day. There are a lot of players with experience, but they still received me with open arms so I’m happy to be here.”
On winning last-minute:
“Extremely happy. We were tied for a while, and it was difficult, but we did it. I’m happy to have another home win.”
On his heart problem:
“Yes, I’ve had some test taken in Seattle and my heart is a bit bigger than normal and each year the doctors check my heart to assure that everything is okay. I had my test taken and I was worried for a bit, but everything turned out to be okay.”
Most notable here is Jake stating he wants to give the managers headaches, and good for him. The competition at positions is something this team has needed, and though Mulraney has the speed to come on as an effective super sub, more power to him to try and break through to that starting spot. An effort like what we saw in his few minutes this afternoon will go a long way to giving Pineda the aforementioned headache.
Also, Alonso speaking on his heart condition and the need to get it tested was enlightening, and here’s to his continued health. As a player, though, Ozzie is going to be one of those on the field who brings some swag to Atlanta United. He put on a masterclass near the end of the match in the art of “don’t screw with my homies.” The message he sent that deservedly earned a yellow card clearly put Charlotte on notice after some...hullabaloo by the team in blue. That’s the kind of leadership and grit any team would love to have from their veteran players.
The Five Stripes sit in 5th in the Eastern Conference as they prepare for Montreal next weekend, which will hopefully be the match we see an earlier start for Moreno and Almada. Meanwhile, in case you missed it, the club has another trophy for the case.