One of these days we’ll all be going to bed after an Atlanta United match with normal blood pressure and heart rate, but this match against D.C. United was not meant to start that trend. The Five Stripes squeaked out a road win against the Black and Red in the last moments of the match with a header by none other than Atlanta’s very own bounty hunter and the scourge of D.C. United himself, Marcelino “Mando” Moreno. After last season’s filthy soul-thievery where Moreno dribbled past all of our nation’s capital and then laid up a tap-in for George Bello, this one just felt right. With that being said, this match was by no stretch of the imagination a representation of “the beautiful game,” but there were definitely some positives to come out of the game for Atlanta.
Andrew Gutman has rapidly evolved into one of the Five Stripes’ most consistent players. Almada had his first start and dropped some absolutely beautiful crosses into the box, and even set up Jackson Conway for a fluffed tap-in. Brooks Lennon got on the board with an assist, and the aforementioned Mandalorian looked good moving the ball up-field. He was naturally a marked man after what he’s done to D.C. in the past, but he muscled his way through a ton of challenges and drew fouls in dangerous territory for Atlanta. He and Almada also seem to be developing some chemistry already, and that combination will likely be nightmarish for defenders. Sosa and Ibarra also had an outstanding second half, and after injuries to both Osvaldo Alonso and Matheus Rossetto they may be getting thrown back into the starting mix a bit sooner than expected.
Before diving into the post-match quotes, though, it also needs to be mentioned that this game exhibited a stark reminder of what changing the shape on the field can do to the flow of the entire match. Going from a back-4 to a back-3 with the addition of Miles Robinson in the middle of the second half not only helped Atlanta push out of their own defensive side, but it laid D.C. on their back foot. When the change was made, Hernan Losada didn’t play any counter and they never recovered. Credit to the gaffer for the subs, as they made the entire match look like night and day.
Check out below what Pineda said in the post-match press conference about the way his guys played as he mentions the connection between Almada and Moreno, the idea of each sub stepping up when they get the chance, and the injuries to Rossetto and Alonso. Brad Guzan talks about the fight this team has (in wonderful detail, I might add), and Marcelino Moreno reveals he is indeed from a galaxy far, far away.
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda
On what Atlanta United grabbing points late on says about the team:
“I think it says a lot. It says about our team that we don’t give up. Last year, I remember, we gave up a lot of points at the end of the games and now we’re doing completely the opposite. That for me is a massive achievement because it’s not something that comes on its own. It’s something that’s worked on by the players by training very hard until the end of the training session. They have to be with full concentration in fighting and competing. I think sometimes these things happen. We are scoring those types of goals at the end of the game and it makes me happy. Those are a nice three points achieved at the end of the game.”
On if he’s satisfied with the overall performance:
“D.C. United is a very good team. We faced a team that is very direct. They like to overwhelm with pressure, second balls and winning aerial duels. It’s hard sometimes to play against these kinds of teams because they are always on their front foot. They’re always aggressive. You saw a little bit of the movement between Thiago [Almada], Marcelino [Moreno], Jake [Mulraney], Andrew [Gutman] and Brooks [Lennon] in the midfield. I think it was pretty good at times, but the final third again, it’s the one that we’re not very dangerous. But that will come in time. I have a lot of faith in Marcelino, Thiago, Rossetto, Jake, Josef [Martinez] and later Luiz [Araujo] to really impact in the final third. With our full backs overlapping all the time, I think we are going to be a little bit more in the final third. Today, it was more of a fight. It was more of a competitive game against a team that likes those individual duels, that likes that physical component of the game. Trying to inflict a type of game that’s always for 50-50 balls, pressure from behind, fouls and they’re very direct. They want always to go forward, to play those long balls, and then try to win those second balls. I felt that the team tends to struggle with that style, but tonight it was pretty good. Again, we will review the film and see how we can do better.”
On the linkup between Almada and Moreno:
“If we’ve been working on something, it was that. It was on the combination play between Marcelino and Thiago to find them in dangerous areas. I felt that at times, there were very good plays between those two, and if you add Ozzie [Alonso] and Rossetto finding those pockets and finding them. I think you saw a few through balls in behind to Josef also, that Marcelino and Thiago can provide. I think that always a smile on my face because those two specifically are talented players for us. We want them, at the same time, in the team. They need to co-exist in the same area at some times to be able to combine. Today, we saw a little bit of that and I think they did a good job.”
On the play of Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra in the second half:
“They were very good. The thought behind putting Santi [Sosa] and Ibarra was a little bit of the intensity that D.C. United was putting there with their three midfielders. They changed the formation slightly from what they were doing. We were waiting for a little bit of a 5-2-3, with Flores on the field and then two forwards. But they really came with a 5-3-2 with three midfielders and putting a lot of intensity in that part of the field. Chasing, pressing, fouling, they were doing a good job on that. I specifically brought Santi and Ibarra to continue the good possession of the ball, but also to put in some of the physicality we needed to win some of those duels. Both did fantastic. That’s something that also makes me very happy, is that the players that are coming from the bench are doing a great job in every game. Since the very beginning, the guys that are coming from the bench are really impacting the game and really contribute to sometimes maintain the same level and sometimes to improve it. That’s something that has been my mantra here since I’m here. Everybody is important. Everybody is valuable. We will need everybody. Whether today was Ibarra, it was Santi Sosa, it was Jackson Conway; other days it was Dom Dwyer, other days it was Caleb Wiley to impact the game. That makes me very happy, because it talks about the cohesion of the whole team.”
On the Atlanta United strikers:
“Number one: I want to explain my line of thinking. I didn’t want to start Miles Robinson and Ronald [Hernandez], just because of the minutes they had in the middle of this week. Josef didn’t play against Columbia, but still he played plenty of minutes against Argentina and then the travel and all that. I knew he wasn’t going to be lasting too long, but I’m very happy with Josef’s effort. Because he did everything he could up to his potential and his physical status, so I felt he did a good job. Behind Josef, we have Dom Dwyer, we have Cisneros and we have Jackson Conway. Cisneros, I think is going to be very soon with the team. I don’t know exactly the timeline, but I hope it is within days. We know him. We’ve seen a lot of him from the film. He’s a good, clever player that likes to run in behind. He faced us in that preseason match in Mexico against Chivas, so we know him very well. I asked Jackson [Conway] just to stay central, try to compete in those individual duels against those center backs. Try to fight and to also to do a little bit of the dirty job, because Thiago and Marcelino, at times, looked tired because they were trying too much. At times, if he had to cover for them, he had to do it. He had to do the physical demands of that position and he did very well. He had almost a half chance, that half-volley, and that’s what Jackson can provide: a tall and strong presence inside the box.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan
On how this game was unique:
“Every game presents different challenges. Every game is different in its own way. That’s the beauty of sport in terms of playing the game. Whether you’re a first-place team playing the last-place team, you can obviously lose those games, vice versa. It doesn’t matter. Every game is unique. Every game is different, so you play the game for that exact reason. When you go through games like this, we know that D.C. is a good team and we knew that they were going to come out flying. We knew they’re going to come out with high pressure. We probably weren’t the sharpest with the ball in terms of possession, but one of the last things we said before we left the locker room before the game was, ‘Earn the right to play in these types of games.’ It’s competitive, it’s fast. The field was hard and wet, so the ball’s flying around. You need to earn the right to be able to play. You don’t just get to show up and say, ‘Well, I’m a no. 10 and I play with a little bit of extra flair, so I don’t have to tackle and fight.’ To be fair, you look at the amount of fouls on Marcelino and Thiago. At any point, one of their midfielders could have got a second yellow, but I think that’s a credit to our guys, in terms of rolling our sleeves up and getting after it. You look at Rossetto, who obviously had to come off at half time. You look at Ozzie, he’s got to come off in the second half. You look at Josef, he’s got to come off in the second half. Andrew Gutman, he’s fighting through battle wounds and getting after Julian [Gressel] and taking away a major threat of theirs. It wasn’t the cleanest with us on the ball, but there’s other areas that maybe in years past, we didn’t have those areas. Where we’d be able to roll our sleeves up and join a dog fight and come out on top. Tonight, we did that.”
On how the team’s mentality is developing
“Good and bad, but growing pains, if you will. There’s good growing pains, there’s bad growing pains. There’s going to be bumps along the way and it’s how you respond to those kinds of moments. The season isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I saw Andrew’s [Gutman] comments before the game, talking about how if you want to be a good team, you’ve got to be able to win on the road. It didn’t have to be pretty, because guess what? In seven months time, nobody’s going to look back and say, ‘they got three points in D.C., but it wasn’t the best of games.’ They’ll say, ‘they got three points in D.C., they won 1-0.’ We understand that there’s areas that need to be better. We understand that we’re still trying to get Thiago in a bit of a rhythm in terms of him in our group. There’s different pieces that you’re still trying to blend together, but this is part of it. This is part of a long season, a marathon of a season. As Andrew said before the game, you’ve got to be able to win on the road. Tonight, we showed that we can roll our sleeves up. We’ve got some guys that can go toe-to-toe. If you remember at the beginning of the second half, where Santi [Sosa] was on the far side of the field, probably 35-40 yard from goal, but he made a massive, hard, a man’s tackle. It ends up going out for a throw-in, but he makes a hard challenge. A fair challenge. Those are types of challenges that we need. Challenges that say, ‘no problem. If you want to get into a fight, let’s go. We’re going to rock with you.’”
Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno
On the play on the corner where he was able to score:
“I simply sensed that the ball could get there and we know that Brooks has a great delivery so I just sensed it and headed it and thanks to God it went it.”
On how he would describe the game:
“It was a hard game and very physical. I think thanks to the talent and experience of our team we were able to win and take three points to Atlanta.”
On his play tonight with Thiago Almada:
“These are our first games together. We’re getting to know each other even though I knew him in Argentina, it’s not the same as playing together. I think he’s going to give us a lot and hopefully great results.”
On playing 90 minutes and how he’s feeling:
“The last match I played 90 minutes was in New York. It’s been a long time and I’ve been preparing very well physically so the feelings from this game are very good.”
On Pineda’s instructions in the final minutes:
“Gonzalo asks that Thiago and I rotate all the time and I saw that he was dropping back so I went farther up the field and we hope that coordination between him and I keeps working.”
On his celebration:
“It was a shirt that my wife gave to me a long time ago that says “Glory to God” because God is very important for me and my family.”