We can all breathe now.
Whatever Gonzalo Pineda told Atlanta United in their hour-long locker room chat after Saturday’s loss to Austin clearly had some weight. The Five Stripes stepped onto the pitch for a Wednesday night fixture against Real Salt Lake and showed some genuine 90-minute heart that resulted in a tense, but well-earned 2-1 win. Yes, the adrenaline is still pumping from those final three minutes.
This “heart” felt a bit different, though. There was some anger, some passion behind it all. Every player on the pitch for Atlanta played with an extra pep in their step. The quiet players played aggressively, the technical players played with some toughness, the speedy players played with an extra gear. Thiago Almada dropped in dime after dime, Marcelino Moreno muscled multiple RSL players off the ball and got involved heavily on defense, Amar Sejdic played as if his life depended on a win, Ronaldo Cisneros drilled home a brace, Juanjo Purata added a calmness to the backline...it could go on.
These alleged “chats” like the one Pineda had after the match on Saturday can go one of two ways: either the players see it as the last straw and genuinely stop caring, or they respond with renewed vigor. Fans definitely saw the latter in Mercedes-Benz Stadium last night.
Granted, this was one match. Atlanta has to go forward with the momentum and win against a solid Orlando side before heading across the country to face the L.A. Galaxy. But they have to start somewhere, and this is as good a time as any to utilize a new formation and some new talent and mold it into a team identity. The Five Stripes are still only six points outside of the playoff picture despite the season’s inconsistency. All is not lost.
Pineda specifically never called out any one player after the match except Marcelino Moreno for his defensive run to help stop an RSL counter where he ended up being the player who got a foot on the ball to stop the attack. That isn’t just to point out Moreno having a very well-rounded game, but to bring to light that the team played well as a collective unit. That’s the whole point of football, after all, and this was arguably the best team performance fans have seen all season. There wasn't much, if any, selfishness, and Pineda summarized it perfectly with his quote to Jillian Sakovits shortly after the final whistle: “I didn’t need heroes, I needed warriors.”
Though admittedly much less drama-filled than Saturday night, the post-match press conference was insightful. While Pineda was praising the team’s fight, Ronaldo Cisneros, Caleb Wiley, George Campbell, and Thiago Almada all gave their takes on the win and what it meant after such a terrible loss only a couple of days prior. Take a look below.
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda
On his takeaway of today’s game considering the context of Saturday’s result:
“The comeback of the team, the response that I saw, it was pretty good. I think you all watch a full team, everyone trying to do what they have to do to win. The highlight for me of the day was Marcelino [Moreno] sprinting back almost top of the box in one transition, actually it was almost the last minute. He went on a run and saved us from a goal. I think that’s what speaks for itself, that the team’s response was a good one. Was saying, ‘hey guys, I know we’ve been receiving a lot of criticism and that, but what a response.’ Today I saw that and that’s what makes me more proud of my players.”
On if the way that the club defended the match’s final corner was poetic:
“Yeah, I felt that it was perfect. It was perfect. Because finishing that way, receiving a lot of pressure and absorbing a lot of pressure but also not conceding those chances. I think it was good proof that we can also handle those situations very well that have been a little bit of ghosts of the past in those situations and today, we solved it very well. So, kudos to my team, I think I can not highlight anyone over the team. Today, the best player was the team.”
On what this win means to him:
“Thank you. This win means a lot, especially after experiencing last Saturday’s match against Austin because not only did we lose but we also didn’t play well which is what bothered us the most. So, this win means a lot to not only me but the whole team. Throughout my years in soccer, I am used to these types of moments too. In my career I have experienced great moments and bad ones too, so I am content with everything right now.”
Atlanta United forward Ronaldo Cisneros
On how important it was to win tonight and play well
“Very important. We’re very happy with the performance of the team, with the three points and above all with this victory that motivates us and puts us on a path to qualify for the playoffs and we hope to be able to continue and start a winning streak with this win.”
On why he seems to score when he plays as a single striker versus playing with two or playing on the wing
“Well, I think it’s my natural position and also I think the team plays a lot to get balls to the center forward. We see every game that whoever’s playing center forward gets chances and that’s due to the work of the team, and there are very talented players who can play a pass in on goal at any moment. Josef, Dom, and I, we’ve all scored goals from that position and it’s because of the work of the team.”
On if there was more energy tonight coming off the last match
“The team always goes out with the mentality to get three points, to win, but with a very painful loss on Saturday we were very motivated to get a win at home, with our fans and return what they give us.”
On if prefers when he has a lot of space behind a back line or when defenders are close to him
“I think given my characteristics, I like to go after balls played into space. It’s a little bit of both, if I feel them very close, then that means I have more space in behind and if they give me space then with my speed I think I can cause them damage.”
Atlanta United defender George Campbell
On getting results:
“I think that it was mostly tactical to help us build out, clearly against our two strikers but with that comes more confidence in stepping in and defending aggressively so you know on the ball and off the ball it really helped us but mostly we are trying to get the best of our team and playing out the back”
On sustaining this (referring to question 1):
“I think we know that’s the bare minimum and the standard for effort, I think the effort is at its best its been this year, we really defended with our hearts the last 10-15 minutes and every ball in the box we cleared, we stepped to the line. I think the effort is the bare minimum of standard”
On being pressured on current game:
“Yeah, I think not just practice or how good you are but focus. The focus was there but not only does it bring confidence that we needed but I that we know now that that’s the demand of how much focus we really need for a Seattle win. It can’t just happen today, but it needs to happen at every home game and when we go to L.A.”
Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley
On if the team’s formation allowed him to feel more comfortable getting forward:
“It certainly did. I think I had a lot more freedom going forward and having a lot more trust with those three great defenders in the back, so yeah, it did.”
On the importance of tonight’s match:
“We knew that this was going to be a must-win match for us, so we had to put our heads down, grind, and get the win.”
On how important getting the win was tonight:
“It was very important for each and every one of us, including the staff too. We needed it going into the next match on Sunday, so it was just a great win and a great step in the right direction.”
On surviving the late onslaught of crosses from Real Salt Lake:
“We always say it is life or death in that area, and it is very important to make sure that we are switched on, especially towards the end of the match when people are tired. But we just have to stay with it and finish out the match, which is what we did.”
Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada
On how important was the win and performance:
“It was very important. I think that there were difficult games where we were not able to get points, and today was to show that we were here, and I believe that we showed it the best way.”
On formation change:
“No, I don’t think that the back line of 3 was to protect us a bit more in the back and I think that we did it well and the freedom that we have for those that attack, we always have it.”
On more space:
“Yes, there was more space, but also the opponent was given us that space and we knew how to take advantage.”
Finally, we’d love for y’all to listen in to our post-match Twitter Spaces as we discus the match and how Atlanta proceeds from here. This show has been a joy to bring to y’all this season thus far and its grown immensely in the short time it’s been happening. We have no one to thank but y’all!