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Air Force Juan: I love playing here and it seems like it is becoming my home

This man just dropped a hat trick as a center back. What?

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Who had the Juanjo Purata hat trick on their bingo card?

Atlanta United battled to a 4-2 win Saturday evening over Toronto FC, courtesy of Purata and a Thiago Almada golazo. Entirely unscripted MLS-after-dark territory, this one was. But it just feels sublime to see another win, especially after the controversial week the Five Stripes have endured.

Purata’s header hat-trick made him the second ever full-time defender to score a hat trick in MLS, and the first player since 2010 to score three headers in a match. Also, the last seven Atlanta United goals before Almada’s golazo have been headers, which is the longest stretch of consecutive header goals since 2010, courtesy of OptaJack. What a night.

From a performance perspective, Atlanta United thoroughly outplayed Toronto. The Five Stripes had 27 shots to Toronto’s 8, and 10 shots on goal to Toronto’s 2. The results finally seemed to lean Atlanta’s way for once when they legitimately dominated a game, and though moments of lackluster focus still came back to bite them, they fought to a well-deserved win. Interestingly, Atlanta’s possession was decidedly less than normal and fans were able to see an increased number of vertical runs by guys like Luiz Araujo, Dom Dwyer, Edwin Mosquera, Thiago Almada, and Andrew Gutman.


What’s even more wild is both teams went into the half nil-nil. A Luiz Araujo blocked penalty kick seemed destined to come back and bite the Five Stripes, but they genuinely looked to be the better side throughout the first 45 minutes. However, Atlanta struck first just two minutes into the second half from the first of Purata’s goals, and subsequently switched off and allowed Toronto to level the match.

Atlanta would then go on to watch as Air Force Juan rose high again from another corner. The ball took a flip off of Andrew Gutman which found Sejdic on the end line, who headed it back across the face of goal to Purata.

But what’s 2022 without the emotional roller coaster? Purata then gave away an admittedly light penalty moments later, which led to Federico Bernardeschi driving home the tying goal once again.

Enter Argentina’s newest wonder kid, Thiago Almada. He ate Michael Bradley’s soul. Just watch, oh...and the fans see you, Edwin Mosquera.

They didn’t let off the gas there, though. Just because he could, Purata then went and bagged the hat trick. Why not?

There’s no reason to go into any “but Toronto’s defense” or “look at the caliber of the team” arguments at this point. The team put on a show for the supporters last night and it was legitimately a fun match to watch. The Five Stripes still have a hill to climb to make the playoffs, but 42,760 folks made the trek to watch a team that has struggled mightily all season, and that’s something to celebrate. Purata’s hat trick, Thiago’s talent, Dwyer’s fight, Mosquera’s directness, Gutman’s heart, and the team’s win are a breath of fresh air, even if it ultimately doesn’t alter the 2022 season.

Gonzalo Pineda and the hat trick hero Juanjo Purata both spoke to the media after the match, and every player in the locker room poked fun because he was the man of the hour. One note on the comments below; Purata dedicated his goals and the win to every member of the club, both seen and unseen, in addition to Josef Martinez. He said the entire team is with the Venezuelan during the ongoing drama, and fans can only hope that points to Josef coming back into the squad with a renewed vigor after his suspension.

Both Pineda’s and Purata’s quotes are displayed in below, but be sure to drop your comments at the bottom, as well.

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda

On if he wants to start taking credit for the team’s set-piece success

“No, no no no. Ultimately, it’s my assistants, they work very hard and 99 percent of the success is the players. The delivery has been good, they are attacking the areas that we want to attack. The second balls inside the box, they are hitting the areas that we also want and there are players attacking those areas. It’s the players and my assistants.”

On if the staff knew Juanjo Purata was going to be an offensive presence on set pieces

“Well, we saw and we asked a lot of questions to a lot of people from Tigres and we knew he was very good in aerial duels. That was a highlight of him but obviously, Tigres didn’t really score many goals but we saw that he had the capability of being good in the air. Now he’s over-performing our expectations on that but credit, yes, Purata has been very good for us on the set pieces but it’s everyone. It’s creating the chances to get corners. It’s the guys that take the corners, they are hitting the balls. The movement that we are trying to use, the decoys, the blockers, the second balls. It’s a whole package that obviously is helping Purata to shine on set pieces as well.”

On how much this kind of result helps the confidence of the team

“We have to do our part, which is going game by game, trying to win every game. But not just the result, which ultimately is what defines our jobs but it’s the performance. The type of performance that we showed today is similar to what we want from the team. I think today was the best day in terms of expected goals, we think. It was a very good game in terms of chances created. We are very happy with that, as well.”

On if the importance of the match was spoken about with the team

“We’ve been talking about that since many games ago. The urgency to win, I think at times we’ve been playing also very good football and we haven’t gotten the result. What you saw in the first half, that’s been happening 90 minutes in many games. We play good, we create a lot of chances but we don’t score the goals or we are not with the advantage that we should have based on the performance, right? It’s just, at times, just a matter of time where the goals come like that when you create so many chances. When you do the right things in the attacking half, I think it’s a matter of time. But many, many games, we didn’t succeed on that. So it’s a little bit also the mental side, overcoming missing a penalty, missing a couple chances, half chances, dominating the whole time. I don’t think in the first half, they have more than one shot and probably it was the PK [penalty kick]. It’s a very solid performance without the result so I think, credit to the players on putting on this type of performance and solidifying that with the three points.”

On if he’s concerned with the conceding after going up and what the solution is

“Paying attention to the film, correcting the little things, PKs. Yeah, a handball that was very similar to theirs or a foul, it was a 50-50 ball to me. I haven’t seen the replay on that. The plays where they got their goals and the penalties came from almost nothing. So that’s for me, the frustration part but obviously, we will review the film. We will try to do better there. But the other solution is trying to score many goals out of the many chances that we created. Maybe we concede two goals but if we score four or five, I think no problem. We are always looking for being more solid defensively but maybe now we have to focus more on attacking.”

On if the team is planning to keep Juanjo Purata around longer

“Well, I think I know the answer but I don’t want to misquote or misrepresent what is reality. So I will leave that for Carlos [Bocanegra] to answer because he is the one that knows all the details on that but obviously, based on the performance and not just because of the goals but the defensive, I don’t know, good performances that Juanjo has had, I think we are very happy if he comes back next year.”

Atlanta United defender Juanjo Purata

Have you ever scored three goals before?

“Never.” -laughing-

On how does it feel tonight

“I’m very happy. I’m very excited. I’m happy first because the team won. We deserved a victory after suffering two defeats away from home. Happy because the team got three points and we’re alive, we’re in the fight and we’re not going to stop fighting until we achieve what we want.”

On scoring six goals and if things are going better than he expected for him personally

“The truth is tonight is a very crazy night. It’s not common for a central defender to score three goals but tonight it happened to me. But it’s because of the work from everyone on the team. It’s about the work everyday. It’s not just the work of one person, not two or three people, not even the 11 players on the field. It’s the work of everyone in this locker room, everyone outside who doesn’t appear on camera but contribute a lot. It’s the work of everyone. And I want to dedicate it also to Josef, that he knows the group is with him, the group is united and the group is very strong and we’re going to fight until the end.”

On how he feels to score three goals and give three important points to Atlanta and keep the team alive in the playoff race

“Yes, I’ll say it again the team is going to fight until the end, until the last minute just like this team is characterized for. I feel very excited. I’m happy for everything that I’m experiencing personally. Maybe the team deserves more, we deserve to be higher than we are. We play good soccer, there are very good players here. Personally, I feel very good and as I said it’s credit to the work of everyone daily, from before I got here and since I’ve been a professional. I’m also grateful to all the fans who have supported me since the first day I got here.”

On winning his spot in the team:

“Well, I like to live day by day. I like to be in the present and not worry about what happened nor what will happen. There are things that are out of my hands, but when it is, I will do my best. I would love to continue being here, but it is not my decision. I wish it was my decision. But I’d love to. This team opened doors for me, people have welcomed me very well, in the club, the fans, the stadium. I was commenting to a teammate yesterday that I love playing here and it seems like it is becoming my home. I would like to thank everyone, all the fans, and everyone at the club for having faith in me.”

On how the group analyzes everything that has been going on this season

“Soccer is a game of mistakes. So usually, the team that wins is the team that makes the fewest mistakes. So, this season we have made mistakes, penalties missed, penalties against us, those are things that happen, but the important thing is that you are prepared mentally and that you are able to respond. So, if you go down a goal, you have to respond and score a goal. If we score, then we have to go and score another goal. That’s the mentality that we have to have and continue to fight because that’s soccer, mistakes will happen and you have to be mentally prepared to fight because that’s part of the game.”