Atlanta United played arguably the best team in the league, Philadelphia Union, to a 0-0 draw Saturday afternoon after recently being trounced by them 4-1. Atlanta’s newfound run of form, two wins and a solid draw, has placed them precariously on the outside edge of the playoff table, and a Columbus loss to Portland on Sunday would be massive if the Five Stripes have any hope of sliding into the post season.
Scoreboard-watching aside, Atlanta seems to have finally found some semblance of a style that works for them, and that’s arguably the true prize for the end of the season. Would it suck to not make the playoffs? Absolutely. But it would suck a whole lot less if the team has a newfound swagger going forward that Gonzalo Pineda and the front office can build on during the off season.
Take: If Atlanta caught this form two months ago, they'd be in 4th right now. But a hard fought 0-0 draw is totally acceptable against the league's best team right now. 2 more to go & you legit have a good shot against 2 floundering teams. #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer #SomosAtlanta— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 17, 2022
Typically when Atlanta plays well, these articles are longer because they’re full of highlight reel goals and moments. This match proved to be the outlier; despite no goals Atlanta United spent the majority of the match simply passing the eye test as the better team. They were legitimately in control, a sentiment that Pineda echoed in his post-match comments when he mentioned that the team had “good possession” and not simply possession for the sake of holding and passing the ball. The attack played with a sense of urgency, and while it may seem vexing to credit the offense with anything on a 0-0 draw, opportunities were presented against a fairly stout Philly defense. This, coupled with Atlanta holding their own clean sheet against a team that’s scored a boat load of goals through the season, is something to be optimistic about. In fact, Atlanta held Philly to one of their worst performances of the season: they had 0 shots on goal and an xG of only .16.
A couple (crazy) stats from me:— Johannes Schneider (@jocoolwu) September 18, 2022
1) For just the 7th time in #ATLUTD history, we held an opponent to 0 Shots on Target
2) Philadelphia's 0.16xG is their lowest since at least 2017
Just frustrating that it didn't get rewarded with 3 points today. #UniteAndConquer
Fans probably haven’t seen many draws that simultaneously felt like a win and a loss, but this was certainly one of them. Admittedly, most supporters likely entered the match feeling that a draw would be an excellent result, but that attitude changed drastically as the match wore on and it truly felt like Atlanta would be leaving this one with three points. Thiago Almada, Edwin Mosquera, Dom Dwyer, Juanjo Purata, Josef Martinez, and Amar Sejdic all had solid opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net. Notably, Edwin Mosquera had two scorching runs, one that ended in a shot that Andre Blake had to reach full extension to save. Amar Sejdic pegged one off the far post hard enough to echo through Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and on two occasions the ball was fumbled around Philly’s six-yard box but no Atlanta player was able to poke the ball home. There was a reason Alan Franco described the Five Stripes as the better team, but referred to Andre Blake as the player of the match; he singlehandedly kept Philly alive.
The post-match press conference had a common theme as the media spoke with Gonzalo Pineda, Amar Sejdic, Edwin Mosquera, and Alan Franco: what’s changed over the past few matches that the team has become much more competitive? Sejdic perfectly summed up everyone’s inability to pinpoint exactly what’s evolved when he just shrugged and replied, “I know you would love an answer.”
Pineda chalked up the form to consistency in the lineups and the lack of any recent injuries. In reality, the answer probably includes those two very important factors and any number of other intangibles, but one thing is certain: the Five Stripes have looked much more like a team as of late. They now have a two week international break to refine the momentum before flying up to battle the New England Revolution on October 1st. Buckle up.
In the meantime, check out what the team had to say after the match and be sure to leave your own comments below, also.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
On today’s performance and if it was the best performance of the season
“I mean there have been a few very good performance this year, but probably because of the opponent and where they are, this is the most complete game that we have played. I felt that there were too many games similar to this and we couldn’t get a result, but I’m very proud of my players. Very proud of the heart, the passion, the fight, the mentality but also the football they performed tonight. Obviously, we can’t be satisfied with the result because we felt that we should have won this one, as many others this season probably, but this one hurts because this could have put us already in a playoff position temporarily and tasting that. Anyway, the team did very well and if we continue like this in the last few games, for sure we need two victories now and combined with other result, we can do it and make playoffs. But I’m very proud overall of my players tonight.”
On if it’s taken the team longer to understand his system
“Well, it’s very hard to have a short answer to your question Felipe (Cardenas). There were at least two or three moments in the season where I felt we were getting that momentum. That comes a little bit with the continuity in the lineups, not having injured players, and not having the situations that put us away from repeating lineups continuously this year. I can start with the beginning of the season with Kansas City, then what happened in Colorado with Ozzie (Alonso) that disrupted it a little bit. After that we had some solid performances, Charlotte was a good game at home, a complete game. Similar ideas, similar passion, similar fight to tonight, and then we start losing players. Then it was trying to balance out those injuries and those players, and then we get some momentum and we suffer more injuries. Now, I feel like with a stable roster and us continuing to have time together I feel we are getting some good momentum but its hard to measure how this momentum compares to others earlier in the season. It’s unfair because there are different type of players now, what I like is that at this point, after everything that’s happened, we are two games away with still a chance to make playoffs and play like this, which is the most important part to me. The team has a belief, has a fight in them, they have pride and that makes me very proud of them.
On the formation he used and the positioning of the players
“A little bit similar answer, when we lose Miles (Robinson) we try to do similar things. Then we lose two fullbacks, really three in Andrew Gutman, Brooks Lennon and Ronald Hernandez almost at the same time. You have to improvise a little bit and find different shapes, different formations. Again, I’m not big on formation, if you look at the 4-2-3-1, but where on the field. What part of the field is important. That’s more of the defensive shape at times that we use, but after that we have so many structures within the team. It’s the structures that matter to me against certain opponents. I felt that today was more of a 4-3-3 in attack or even a 2-3-2-3, trying to put Amar and Thiago in between the lines, and when their midfielder was going to our fullback, we were finding those players and trying to switch the point of attack. I felt the players did a great job with that. At times the gameplan works, at times it doesn’t. Against Orlando we had a very different gameplan, but it didn’t manifest like that because Orlando did a good job and my players adapted. Yeah, the back four is working now because we are stable, but after that we have different shapes that we can use.”
On Alan Franco and him hitting his best form of the season recently
“Probably a little bit the same. When you have multiple games playing along side Juanjo Purata, Andrew Gutman and Santiago Sosa, they are able to connect and gel out. I always talk about the pairs and how I see the game. That helps Alan. At times it’s unfair to come here and criticize certain players throughout the season. At times it just hasn’t been there because of the lack of continuity with the lineups. Yes, he is having a tremendous part of the season, but before when he wasn’t it probably was because he played with many other players. I feel like those changes in the lineups didn’t help with the performances of many players to perform at the caliber that they are capable of. Now they are gelling and now they are performing well. That shows good mentality. Alan Franco is doing well with everything, winning aerial duels, buildup play, anticipation, talking on the backline and showing leadership. He’s a tremendous player.”
Pineda: “Most complete game we’ve played” Can’t be satisfied because we felt we should have won but for sure now need 2 wins.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 17, 2022
Said it’s hard to give a short answer on how the team has built momentum but consistent lineups & no injuries has helped. #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer 1/5 pic.twitter.com/4lFqqrgjeO
Atlanta United FC midfielder Edwin Mosquera
On if he thought his shot late in the match was going to go in
“Yeah, I was already about to celebrate the goal.”
On what his celebration would have been had he scored
“I do not even know how my body would have reacted.”
On his performance today and how he is getting to know his teammates better
“I think every day I am feeling better and better with the group, and that is helping me, and it’s showing on the field.”
On what has helped him settle in with the Club
“I think it is just because I have been with the team for a longer period of time, so I am feeling more confident.”
@EdwinStieven said the chemistry he has built has just come from time with the guys. Said he’s ready for whatever @GonzoPineda8 decides going forward in terms of potentially starting. #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer #SomosAtlanta pic.twitter.com/ciuN6xljxs— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 17, 2022
Atlanta United defender Alan Franco
On keeping two shutouts in the past two games how the team was able to do it today against a team that had scored 22 goals in its last five games
“We’ve been working a lot everyday thinking about our opponents. We knew that we were going against the league leader and also that they have a great goalkeeper, as you could see this afternoon. We deserved more but the goalkeeper had a great performance, he stopped the clear chances we had, so we got a good result even though we wanted the victory, we deserved it, but their figure of the game was the goalkeeper.”
On how much it helps the team having played with the same starting lineup three games in a row
“We need to have a balance. Sometimes keeping the team is good for us because we find the form and we’re more secure. We also need confidence, sometimes changing players a lot can affect confidence, but I think we have to keep working and keep a system so the confidence keeps growing and get the results that we deserve.”
On how the team can keep this going after the break
“I think it depended a lot on the result we got today. I think we got a good result today, it’s a shame we couldn’t win but it’s an important point for what’s left. Now we have a break. We have various guys going with their national teams so they have to enjoy it, enjoy the moment they’re experiencing, and the rest of us will rest and come back more recovered and better mentally for what’s remaining.”
Alan Franco on the game: Said they knew it was going to be difficult, their GK was player of the game. Deserved more but Blake did well.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 17, 2022
Said consistency in the lineup helps build confidence, but thinks it’s a balance and the team is growing in overall confidence. 1/2 #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/NAKGNLLpNR
Atlanta United midfielder Amar Sejdic
On playing so well but not being able to gain the three points
“I mean, yeah. I don’t think Philly felt like this all year long probably. I think we kind of put on the gas the entire game and its definitely disappointing not to walk away with three points. But nonetheless, I think it was a proud effort by everybody, and yeah, I think we just have to finish out this year strong with two games left and see where it goes.”
On summarizing what the team was able to do so well in this entire game
“I think it was covering for the guy next to you. I think our backline was very well intact together, checking their shoulders with runners. I think me and Santi did a good job picking up second balls. I think me Santi and Thiago were able to combine well in the middle, finding the opposite side half space. I think we were able to isolate one side switch to the other side quickly, and kind of isolate Luiz and Brooks. I think we really had them running around a good part of the game so yeah, just disappointing not to get the points.”
On how important it is for the team to have these moments and have proof of concept
“I think this is kind of coming together of what the identity we wanted have all year long. I think it’s a very important stepping stone. Yeah, its late in the season now but I think moving into the next year thinking about, like, what we are able to do and accomplish as a team. We’ve set the bar high in a lot of games and then of course there has been games where we weren’t ourselves. So, I think kind of looking back at these moments and understanding that. Yeah, this is what it takes, and this is what it means to wear the jersey and to fight for the guy next to you.”
Amar Sejdic @amarsejdic1 said the result can be both encouraging and discouraging but they’re going to keep their foot on the gas. Said everyone played very well today.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 17, 2022
He said isolating Luiz and Brooks was integral. Said the result is an important stepping stone 1/2 #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/Q83ndrruj0
Also, be sure to give a listen to our post-match Twitter Spaces show. Y’all know the drill, we go live after each match and it’s available for listening after the fact.