It’s okay; if you still don’t know what to feel about Atlanta United’s 3-3 draw against Montreal, just know we’re all in the same boat. While this may rank up there with the 2018 match against San Jose in unreal comebacks, the 2018 match felt more like a tit-for-tat proper skirmish (albeit the called back goal). This game against Montreal can only be described as a roller coaster of emotions, with a side of sloppy play and true grit.
From the moment Atlanta took that short free kick and Brooks Lennon dribbled out towards midfield, there was an obvious miscommunication. The goal Montreal scored from that mistake seemed to shut off a collective light switch in the team’s mentality; the remaining portion of the half was a disaster. Credit to Pineda for making the half time switches, but Dom Dwyer receiving a straight red just minutes after entering just seemed like the cherry on top of a horrific outing. Side note - give Dwyer some credit for trying to come on and provide some energy for a floundering side, he just over-cooked the energy a smidge.
Needless to say, the post-match press conference seemed sure to be an absolute bummer. And then Thiago Almada somehow scored an absolute golazo and it took the sting out a bit, but then Brooks Lennon stepped up and netted his first free kick goal of his career and suddenly the clouds opened up to sunshine at Mercedes-Benz, and a rough loss turned into a draw that felt like a huge win. This one is sure to be discussed for quite some time, so let’s get it started with what was said by Gonzalo Pineda, Brooks Lennon, and Thiago Almada after the match.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the last minutes of the game, and the final minutes of the first half:
Well, I could summarize - probably - them differently. I think there were three moments of the game - the beginning where we were superior, we were good, we were moving the balls faster - creating chances, creating goals under the pressure that we train. Then something changes - suddenly we start to stop playing. We stopped playing. We start to give balls - easy balls - away. We didn´t have intensity on the ball and then we start to give them the ball and they are a very good team. Montreal is a very very good side. I think they did a great job- their build-up and how to disrupt our pressure, especially on the right side. And then well then - the game went away with those three goals in the first half - a couple good transitions - some very good - good goals for them.
Then I think we tried to regroup and readjust with three subs and even after that - trying to go with a different formation, Dom Dwyer… We were not actually getting the ideas. They were pretty much dropping us in a very deep line that was hard to break a line of five and then the red cards and then that changes again the game. Well, then I think after that we start to see the best side of the team, which is the passion, the willingness the never giving up. Those things that actually - I am very happy about that part. And suddenly they are showing up and regaining balls in important areas - a couple great goals and I think we got a point out of that as a reward, but obviously, it wasn´t a good game at all.
On the team rallying from behind and securing points:
“Well - I mean - it says a lot about the heart of the team and for me, that is very important. That - I just told them that sometimes when we are not sharp, were not good in possession, we are not finding the spaces - the minimum requirement is for us to put everything in every fifty-fifty ball to win duels, to be willing to press, to be willing to do double duty at times so at times - you saw Sosa while Martinez is sprinting out to defend almost on the flank. Then Brooks (Lennon) and (Ozzie) Alonso pushing higher to reach balls. I think we saw the willingness from everyone, so that is what we are trying to do but obviously we planned for a very different game. We plan for a game where we were controlling the ball, especially after the first goal - we need to be able to control the game to be controlling the ball - to have possession - to be more creative and continue the attacks, but today we showed that side of the team that I am very happy because that part is super important for what we want to achieve.
On the different risks taken throughout the game:
“We had to risk it a little. Especially with the different changes of having Brooks and Jake and Dom, we tried to form something on the spot, which is risky, but it did work for a bit. Then the game kept changing but we recovered from everything. I’m really happy with Ozzie’s score moreover, the passion and the message to never give up, which is something that Ozzie has demonstrated throughout his whole career.”
On his opinion over the game knowing that fans were starting to leave during the 80 min. mark:
“This game wasn’t well. There’s no denial in that. After the first goal we fell off and we started to do things that we shouldn’t do. We ended up giving the rivals the opportunity to outdo us however, I am proud of how we ended because it demonstrates to me how the team will never give up and that they are capable of overcoming obstacles under pressure but that doesn’t make me forget about what happened throughout the game earlier. There will be corrections, more training and understanding that there’s a lot of competition out there. In this field if you don’t do your best, someone else will take your place.”
On Luiz Araujo, moreover, having the team depend on him:
“Luis is extremely talented and there’s no denial in that, but we are not a team that depends on one player. It’s obvious that we have a lot of talent on this team and our goal for this team, our vision doesn’t indicate on depending on just one player.”
Atlanta United midfielder Brooks Lennon:
On how he would rate his free kick:
“I don’t think it was right in the corner, I would say. But happy it went in and happy to come back down from 3-1 to be able to have the fight with 10 men. To be able to come back and tie the game shows what kind of heart this group has and that’s going to be a very important result for us going forward.”
On how Almada and he decided who would take the free kick:
“We just had a brief discussion and we thought it was best for me to take it. I was able to get really good contact on it and luckily it went in.”
On if he was surprised that the free kick went in:
“No, I wasn’t surprised. I knew, once I hit it, that it had a chance. I hit it pretty well and the goalie was leaning a little bit. Just happy it went in and happy for this group to be able to come back and tie this game. Unfortunate result, like I said in my brief interview on the field. We’re not happy with ties, especially here in the Benz. But with all the circumstances, being we were down 3-1, to be able to come back and tie is really good for us.”
On what happened on the corner kick that led to the Mihailovic goal:
“Miscommunication on our part. When we were scrambling a little bit on the broken play, I think we could have just kicked it out of bounds or had a little bit of clinical decision-making. Just a bad mix up on our part, and those are things that we’ll clean up. I think in the 15-20 minutes of the first half, we just kind of lost our way and we weren’t breaking lines. We just kind of got away from our style, and that’s what Gonzalo [Pineda] had to address at halftime with us. ‘We need to get back to what was making us do well in the first 20-25 minutes of the first half.’ That was the discussion we had at halftime.”
On keeping a strong mindset for all 90 minutes:
“We need to be locked in and focused for all 90 minutes. We can’t switch off for the last 20 minutes of a first half. In this league, that’ll come back and bite you. You saw, they scored two quick goals on us in the first half and that was because our mentality shifted. I thought, once we conceded the first goal, we lost our way. It’s being focused for 90 minutes straight, and we have the quality and mindset to do that. I’m going to go back to what I said earlier, to come back from 3-1 is positive.”
On if the team can be happy with a tie:
“I think, last year, we don’t get this result. To be able to come back, even though we aren’t happy with ties at home, it feels like a win for us because of the circumstances. We were down 3-1. We were able to tie it 3-3 with a man down. That right there just shows resiliency, fight, determination and the ‘never give up’ mentality that every Atlanta United player should have.”
On getting a result, despite the team not being at full strength:
“We’ve had a mix of guys be injured. That’s professional sports, you’re never going to have a full-strength squad at all times. Different guys are going to have different injuries and that’s what’s made this first run of the season special for us. We’ve had guys step into different positions that they really don’t play and step up and be successful for us. If we have players that can do that, when we have a full squad firing, we’re going to be dangerous.”
On an example of the team’s resiliency:
“At halftime, we were all very frustrated. Down, I would say. Just didn’t know where the game was going. Guys were very agitated, which is normal when you’re down like that. But to be able to turn that frustration and anger into a result, is a different story. You can be angry as long as you want, but you’ve got to perform on the field to be able to pull out a result and that’s what we did. To score two very good goals at the end was special. I’m happy for Thiago [Almada] for him to get his first goal for Atlanta United. Great finish for him, and that gave us the momentum to get back into it.”
On keeping the team’s unbeaten streak at home alive:
“I didn’t even know that stat, but that should be a stat that should go on as long as possible. Because this should be our fortress and a place where we never drop points. That’s good to hear that stat and we need to continue that. No matter what team comes and plays us at the Benz, they should feel pressure.”
Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada:
On his first goal for Atlanta United:
“Yes, the ball came to me, there were two defenders, I was able to dribble past them and was falling when I hit it. I hit it and luckily it was a goal, my first in Atlanta and I’m very happy that we were able to take something from a very difficult game and the important thing is that we didn’t lose.”
On handling the emotions of the game after he scored his goal:
“No, when I scored the goal it boosted everyone to try and even the game and score one more goal to win it but it couldn’t be done. We value everyone’s efforts, the team, and we need to continue getting better so we can get three points in the next game.”
On Gonzalo Pineda’s message at halftime:
“Gonzalo told me to move around, to let everything happen, more than anything he gave me confidence and to be calm and that’s what I did.”
On what position he is more comfortable playing, in the middle or on the wing:
“I like both ways, I played a lot as a No. 10 at the club I was at before, but I feel more comfortable in the middle.”
On what he was thinking as he and Brooks prepared to take the free kick:
“I took the ball and wanted to take it but my teammate had more confidence so I gave it to him and he did very well.”
On how he felt scoring the goal and hearing the stadium:
“Good, a lot of happiness to score the first goal at the club, even if I couldn’t celebrate it much because we were losing but I felt very happy and the support of the fans gave us a push to go and tie the game.”
On if physically he’s ready to start the next match if the coach asks:
“Yes, one always wants to play but I’ve spoken about it with Gonzalo to go little-by-little but now I have all week to train and improve my fitness so that I’m prepared when it’s my time to start.”
I could write an essay on so many aspects of this game, but sometimes it’s just best to realize soccer is a funny game and the expected goals stat can never take into account the drive for a team to genuinely pull something out of
their rear end a hat. What’s for sure, though, is that the team needs some discipline and sharpness to truly take that next huge step to top-tier. This international break couldn’t come at a more perfect time.