Optimism is a funny emotion. Normally getting one point from a three game road trip wouldn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but Atlanta United fighting back to a 2-2 draw on admittedly the most embarrassing
baseball soccer pitch in North America against the reigning MLS Cup champions is worth some praise. When the performance against the Red Bulls (individual mistakes and result notwithstanding) is factored in, along with Gonzalo Pineda being unafraid to tweak his tactical settings for the team he’s playing against, it’s easy to understand why the penultimate match of this long road trip could be a turning point for the Five Stripes.
Of course that remains to be seen, and Atlanta United have an upcoming test at home against an Austin FC side that has won more games in away venues than their own pitch. But the product on the
diamond pitch in New York on Sunday and in New Jersey on Thursday showed some positivity that’s been missing for a long stretch this season. It wasn’t perfect by any means; the mental lapses and lethargic moments need to be addressed, but even on a field that screams “anti-Atlanta” the likes of Josef Martinez, Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almada, and Marcelino Moreno (and Dom Dwyer) were finally able to play significant time together and come away with a result.
Everyone knew this match was going to be rough because of Atlanta’s defensive woes and the condition of the baseball field, but the Five Stripes began the match almost equaling NYCYC in every category. Both sides had chances, and Josef, Araujo, and Moreno all missed or scuffed some very outstanding opportunities in the first half. This gave New York some momentum and Taty Castellanos was able to get on the board just before the first 45 was over with a huge misread at the backline by Alan Franco. Franco tried to trap Taty offside and was entirely unsuccessful and George Campbell was never able to catch up to him as he was able to slot it past Rocco Rios Novo.
Atlanta came out in the second half, though, with some better progression up the pitch. It was Thiago Almada who played one of his trademark chips over the top of the back line to an outstretched Josef Martinez who was able to head it down past Sean Johnson to make it 1-1.
Before anyone had any time to celebrate, however, New York went up again after a series of incredibly unorganized defensive...curiosities. George Campbell and Alan Franco couldn’t seem to get things together as NYCFC initiated a break. It was Aiden McFadden who was able to hustle to the ball where he poked it out wide to the edge of the box, but it was subsequently played right back in to a waiting Castellanos once again.
Pineda then made a clear attacking oriented sub with Ronaldo Cisneros coming on for Amar Sejdic, while New York seemed content to relax the pressure a bit and give Atlanta some space while settling in to defend the lead. The continued with no great chances for Atlanta until Caleb Wiley was subbed off for Machop Chol and Thiago Almada off for Dom Dwyer. Machop showed off his speed and obvious height on both sides of the ball, looking fairly fresh for the amount of time he’s missed. But it was Atlanta United legend Dom Dwyer who made the difference with an assist by fellow sub Cisneros to steal a point back to the good guys.
Credit where it’s due: that through ball to Cisneros from Alan Franco was quite literally perfect. The point earned marks an end to the away stretch as the Five Stripes prepare to take on Austin FC in front of a full Mercedes Benz Stadium in the coming weekend. The optimism was obvious in the post-match press conference, and while on paper the past three games may not seem like much, Atlanta still only sits 5 points outside of not only a playoff spot, but 5th place in the Eastern Conference. If Pineda along with MAMA can build on the current general form while eliminating the defensive issues, the optimism can become infectious. And with the addition of two new defensive players in the coming matches the Five Stripes could truly make a leap.
Here’s what Gonzalo Pineda, Ronaldo Cisneros, and Aiden McFadden had to say after the match.
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda
On today’s match and the emotions after the match:
“A little bit of ups and down throughout the game. I felt that at some points in the first half we were creating good chances. I remember the one to Josef (Martinez) early on the through ball. Then the header by Luiz (Araujo) and the cutback from Caleb Wiley to Josef. So, I felt we had a few good chances to get something out of the game. We are facing the defending Champions, a very good team, very solid team with a lot of experience and a good coach. It wasn’t an easy game. There were moments when they had control and had some minutes on top, but we were able to absorb that pressure well at times. At the end of the game, we pushed for the tie and then the victory. Credit and good statement from my team that they never quit or surrendered, and we got a point out of that.”
On the pitch at Yankee Stadium:
“We know what it’s like coming to Yankee Stadium, especially during the baseball season going on. In that corner, I was more concerned with both teams getting injuries. That part was bad, but it’s the same for both teams. I felt that we to learn and adapt how to play in different surfaces, that’s part of MLS. The players did ok with that, never complained so I’m happy with that. I’m glad everybody came out healthy, because that part wasn’t great.”
On taking some momentum from today’s match into the next match:
“I felt that against New York Red Bulls we were very dominant, very dominant. We were by far the best team and we lost. This game was a bit more even. Maybe New York City had better chances at moments, but I think it was more of an even game with both teams creating chances and we came out with a draw. MLS is like this. We just hit the halfway point of the season and we need to build out this momentum from these last two performances. Today is a valuable point, the performance against Red Bulls was encouraging. I don’t forget that we gave away a point to New York City at home with a free kick goal in the last minute, and that was the difference between finishing higher on the standings than them. So, maybe today is that type of point for us that will be valuable, I’m optimistic about that.”
On fielding all three DP’s in starting lineup for first time with Marcelino Moreno:
“I think it was good overall. I felt that Thiago Almada at times looked a little out of rhythm, which is normal when coming off the layoff he had. He looked good physically, but the rhythm and the timing, especially against a team that is so good in the middle of the park. The timing and distances were tough for him, but he still produced a fantastic assist to Josef. He had some other good plays. For Marcelino it was a difficult game for what I was asking of him today. I was asking for a lot of runs in behind and he was doing what I was demanding, but the perfect ball didn’t come to him. But, I’m happy with his understand of the needs for the team. Luiz and Josef are going to connect very well out. We just need to see a couple more games together to see what they can produce. But, let’s not forget about Ronaldo (Cisneros), coming off the bench with a great assist, then Dom (Dwyer) comes into the match the last 10 minutes and produces a goal. I feel like I have enough attacking power. It’s whether we are a little bit more solid defensively, keep a couple more clean sheets and we will be getting points for sure.”
Atlanta United forward Ronaldo Cisneros
On how he would describe the point the team earned tonight:
“Obviously coming into the game we wanted to come in and get all three points. We know that New York City is a very good side. They are the reigning MLS Champions, we knew it would be a difficult game. The fact that we came back and got a point is a positive, but of course when we play the next game we want to get all three points.”
On if this is a moment in season that can push team forward:
“Of course, I think we have some games against difficult teams coming up. As I’ve said before though, all the teams in this league are difficult to play. The good thing for us is that the next three games are at home and we are looking to get nine points out of those games. We will try to get ourselves up the standings.”
On what the attack is capable of now that everyone is healthy:
“Important things. Our goal is to get into the playoffs and compete for a title. You named a lot of really good players, but I think it’s the whole squad, it’s every guy that whenever they are called upon, they are capable of a good performance. That’s how we feel, that we have a good group and we are all competing for spots on the field, but everyone is here to help the group, that’s the sensation we have.”
Atlanta United defender Aiden McFadden
On what he’s learned from his first three starts and how he’s improved:
“Just trying to learn a bit from every game. Today was definitely a different experience. I feel like each game has had its own challenges. Toronto was probably just growing into it. Then the Red Bulls, that press is something else. You don’t see that everyday. Today, coming into this atmosphere on a baseball pitch with a very talented team. I feel like a few times I could have done better. Stepped out, got played in behind but that’s the difference. The windows are smaller here but the players are able to thread those passes, so it’s just adapting to the speed really and then knowing you’re playing against clever guys. So you always got to be thinking, you’ve got to be moving, communicating and just trying to make it as difficult as you can. I’ll watch it back, try to learn from it and I think that’s really all you can do.”
On if he feels like he’s a better player than three games ago:
“Slowly, slowly. I still got a long way to go. It’s just about doing better than the day before. I probably have improved in some ways, I still think maybe with the ball today, I wasn’t as clean as I can be. It’s just about getting better. I feel maybe I’m more comfortable, might be the word. But yeah, definitely a long way to go.”
On if he’s pleased that the team grinded out a draw:
“Definitely pleased with a point but I think everyone will say, ‘you don’t play to tie, we want to win games.’ Happy to come back and get the point but we want to win games. That’s what all of us are here to do. We love playing, we love dictating the tempo of the game and we love winning, so that’s what we’re going to strive to do.”
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The first leg of the NY/NJ road trip didn’t go well for #ATLUTD. We’ll see how things fare on the other side of the Hudson River in the Bronx vs. #NYCFC— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) July 3, 2022
Join @ATLPilgrim, @SHWrites, and @LetsGoDucks96 as the guys have your post match coverage tonight at 7 https://t.co/bWrWGEgHQZ