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Gonzalo Pineda: That loss against Austin was a good wake-up call

Though not perfect, the trends are certainly encouraging.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

MLS wanted a rivalry match, and boy did they get one in Atlanta United vs Orlando City. The game was a classic tale of two halves, marred by an admittedly strange goalkeeping mistake but then saved by a revitalized second-half performance. This 1-1 result meant the Five Stripes wrapped up a three game home stand with four points; not the best take, but not bad all things considered. So, before diving into the post-match quotes and recap, let’s consider all those things.

In one week plus a day, Atlanta United have been handed their worst home loss in franchise history and subsequently aired out the locker room (not literally in either sense). They rebounded to a solid win against Real Salt Lake and then found out their inaugural club president will be leaving (and I do mean “found out” quite literally). They went down a goal against their rivals, and then unlocked an entirely new gear in the final 35 minutes against the same aforementioned rival to come away with a point. Considering the off-field drama, four points isn’t terrible, and there were some incredibly optimistic signs as the team moves into the second half of the season.

Those two big club events could cripple a team; when the face of the franchise starts taking shots at the front office after a bad defeat, it could drag morale down the tube. It didn’t. When players were seemingly just as surprised as fans to hear about their president leaving to take a position at Newcastle, it could pull the team into a pit. It didn’t. Aiden McFadden mentioned in the post-match presser that the team would be having a meeting this week about Darren leaving, and the fact that Machop Chol found himself in our Twitter Spaces show after the news broke seems pretty indicative that the news blindsided everyone.

Yet the players played more like a full-fledged team in the two games after those revelations than they have all season. In particular, this match against Orlando City showed a side of Atlanta United that most people probably thought was long gone. The hosts brought on Josef Martinez and Thiago Almada in the 60th minute, creating an attack that consisted of Josef, Almada, Moreno, Araujo, and Cisneros, with Caleb Wiley still out wide on the wing. A few minutes later Cisneros came out for Dom Dwyer, and Orlando genuinely looked like they just wanted to leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium (queue Lil’ Jon “Shots” here).

xG vs Orlando MLS

The unlikely hero, however, turned out to be newcomer Juanjo Purata. He found himself on the end of a Thiago Almada dime of a free kick after losing his mark to make the game 1-1 and send Mercedes-Benz Stadium into an uproar.

From there the result was an exciting, edge-of-the-seat performance that had Orlando’s Pedro Gallese almost dislocating his shoulder to stop shots. Kudos to him because the Five Stripes never found the back of the net, but it was an energy that hasn’t been seen in a ridiculously long time. If Pineda can bottle that up and unleash it on game days, he’ll have something special on his hands.

The match wasn’t void of shenanigans, though, and the first half still needs to be discussed.

Without mentioning the shortcomings of inconsistent referees in the league, this game was ultimately decided by a very strange sequence of events beginning with a foul called against Atlanta near the top of the box. Rocco Rios Novo began preparing his wall and gestured to Victor Rivas to have another moment to set everyone up. Rivas gave him what certainly looked like a thumbs up, so Rocco continued his adjustments. Four seconds later, Rivas blew the whistle and allowed the free kick to be taken while Rocco stood in front of the post, leaving the goal wide open.

From that point on, the first half was just “meh” on both sides. Honestly, no plays truly stood out during that period except for the excruciatingly inconsistent officiating. By the end of the half both teams just seemed happy to step off the pitch for a bit. They emerged 15 minutes later and it was basically all Atlanta from there until the final whistle (minus one Orlando shot that hit the post and an almost own goal by Campbell).

ATL vs ORL stats MLS

On one hand, Atlanta were unfortunate to be unable to pull out a result that would’ve marked their first back-to-back wins in a very long time. On the other, the ferocity the team showed up front with the extra center back bodes well as the team prepares to go across the country to face the L.A. Galaxy during the weekend. There is definitely something to be said of a lineup consisting of the following, which is what Atlanta fielded in the final 20-ish minutes. Give us some comments below on what you think about this same (or similar) group starting matches.

Mad scientist Pineda

And as usual, check below to see what Gonzalo Pineda, Aiden McFadden, Luiz Araujo, and Dom Dwyer had to say about the 1-1 draw.

Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda

On Darren Eales leaving the team:

“Yes, that’s tough, I think for the whole organization. Me personally, he’s one of the guys that believed in me as a coach. Him, Carlos [Bocanegra], Steve Cannon, I think those three are people that were for me being here. I think once I knew and met and understood who Darren Eales is, he’s a fantastic leader, a great president for the organization and someone who I’m sure we will try to cover as much as we can but will be missed. He will be missed with his big smile, with the way he brought the culture to Marietta. Even today, I felt very strange coming into the stadium and not shaking his hand because that’s a tradition and he will be missed in many different ways.”

On if the team has discovered its new formation and energy in this homestand:

“Yeah, I mean, we all can see things differently. I think that loss against Austin was a good wake-up call that had to happen and actually, I’m kind of happy that it happened because it solved a lot of internal things within the team. I feel like the last two games, we’ve been playing as a team. We finally came back to play, fight, compete, playing good football as a team. I actually am happy with what happened against Austin because I feel like that’s going to be the decisive point of the season where we’re going to just come back very strong. I don’t know what you guys think about the game but I felt that we were very dominant. Not the first half, it was a tough first half, but we were always on the front foot, always moving the ball, always willing to create chances, always the team that really wanted to attack. Because of that, we made Orlando to be tired, give spaces and then at the end, we were very dominant. I’m very proud of that with my team so the way we finished this week, I think is very positive for what we want to achieve in the future.”

On what happened on Orlando’s goal:

“I don’t want this to sound as a complaint at the referees because we are not allowed by the MLS rules. What I saw and what we checked on the film is that Rocco Ríos Novo asked permission to check the wall and the referee, we checked the video, he gives the thumbs up. Then when he’s on the post, he whistles. I don’t know what to think about it. Obviously, the referee is always correct, they are the best. We just have to move on and continue playing.”

Atlanta United defender Aiden McFadden

On what impact Darren Eales leaving might have on the club:

“Might have an impact for sure but I just found out about it like everyone else. I know there’s a meeting next week about it. I’m sure they have our best interests at heart. I’m happy for him, it’s a great opportunity. I’m excited for whatever this next chapter brings.”

On if the team is “back”:

“Yeah, I think we feel good about our performance but we want to win. There were definitely chances, we could have finished that game off and we wanted to, but it was a good team performance and it’s something to build on for sure.”

On if the team has discovered its new formation and energy in this homestand:

“Well, we definitely played with the formation. We played five-back against Red Bulls as well so we have some experience with it. As far as energy, I mean, I think this group is fantastic. I think maybe there were some performances in there that we weren’t really thrilled with but at the same time, it’s a good group. Lot of talent and it’s just putting that together and getting some results.”

On if he likes playing in a back-three formation because it gives him more license to get forward:

“I just like whatever gets me on the field. I’ve played in a whole host of positions with the 2s. It’s really just whatever is asked of me, I try to do. Yeah, I like playing in a five-back but if it’s a four-back, I’ll enjoy that as well.”

Atlanta United forward Dom Dwyer

On playing with another striker (Josef Martinez) together up top:

“It was great, we have a lot of chemistry, and I think that can show in the minutes. We haven’t had many minutes together yet, but we have been building that for the year. Hopefully, we can get more of that in the future, but I think the team is headed in the right direction.”

On throwing in a lot of attackers in second half:

“I think that’s a weapon for our team, we have a lot of attacking options. It makes it difficult sometimes, we don’t all get to play, but that’s a good problem to have. We are pushing, and today we were pushing pretty hard for the last 30 minutes, we had a lot of attacking subs and I think we were unlucky not to get a winner.”

On Juanjo Purata’s performance today:

“He’s very brave and a very smart defender, first and foremost, and then obviously, if you can add to the other side that’s a big bonus. I think you saw that tonight and it won’t be the last one you see.”

On if he would have celebrated the almost goal:

“I still am in a little bit of shock that he saved that one, I think I would have been respectful, but I might have had to at that point.”

Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo

On the team performance

“These were two important games for us. We won one and tied the other but we did everything to win, also. We had a lot of opportunities going forward, we were very good at the back. We’re working very hard, all the players are together and I think we’re going to improve little by little and make the playoffs.”

On how tight the standings are and if he’s confident that they are going to make the playoffs

“Yes, of course. We’re working very hard for that. We always want to make the playoffs here, we’re going to continue working very hard, we have to get points, every point is very important now. We have a difficult game, very important game and we’re all going to be together and go there to get three points.”

On his ability to shoot from distance and also carry the ball

“As I’ve said, I have a lot of quality to shoot from long distance, also to dribble the ball. No, it’s not tactics. In games there are moments to shoot, moments to pass, and do what’s best for the team

Be sure to give the ol’ Spaces show a listen, we’d appreciate it. And bring us coffee for next week’s episode because a 9:38 Eastern kickoff means we’re going to have a late night.