First, nothing is guaranteed. Let’s get that settled now. Just because Atlanta United comes home to play Columbus Crew in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday doesn’t mean there will be a decisive game three.
Columbus has been unnaturally good at the Benz, relatively speaking, but Atlanta will have to shake off the 2-0 defeat in Ohio if they wish to have another chance to win this series.
The biggest issue with Wednesday’s match was simple: you can’t win a game taking one shot. The ball was progressed decently; Columbus was never going to make that part easy. But when all else fails, someone has to take ownership and take some shots. Create some hardship for the defense, interrupt their decision-making loop...something. Credit to Columbus, as they’re a really good team, but unfortunately Atlanta United made it too easy on their defense.
That has to change come Tuesday at home, and hopefully a packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium will light a fire under the squad to handle business here and force game three back in Columbus.
So queue up the rousing speeches, the fiery locker room talks, and bring the heat on Tuesday, because even though this is an uphill battle, they have the best fanbase anywhere pushing them forward. Let’s go.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On mistakes tonight and how to fix that going into the next game of the series:
“That’s losing the ball, that’s not necessarily a mistake on defense. The first goal, Caleb Wiley is pretty high up the field and there were a lot of things that happened after the turnover. I think overall, without Thiago (Almada), we had to adjust the shape and try to do a good job. I think the plan was working in the first half. We were limiting the inner channels a lot, which is where Columbus wants to expose you and they couldn’t create many chances in the first half. Aside from the action on the goal, Cucho does a great job, it’s a good play from Cucho. Then, we felt that if we could have gotten to halftime at 0-0 probably the mental advantage could have switched in the second half. So now for the next game, we will have Thiago back, we will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium we will be strong. We have to be on the front foot. It’s a life or death match and we have to go all in.”
On if missing Thiago Almada tonight led to not having many shots in attack tonight:
“No, I think in the first half we had a couple of chances to take shots. Maybe Giorgos Giakoumakis, Xande Silva could have taken shots in good actions. We had a cut back opportunities from Brooks (Lennon) that maybe we could have finished first time. For some reason we couldn’t find the right window to shoot. We certainly had a couple of actions in the final third. We had some good final third entries, but we couldn’t finalize those. Yes, Thiago helps with how many people he attracts and that creates spaces for others maybe. But yeah, I think it’s an area we have to do better.”
On choosing Ronald Hernandez as the third center back tonight:
“Well, we felt that at times, our buildup can kind of morph into a back three or back two and Ronald can play as a full back on the right. Especially when Brooks goes really high, the backline turns into a back four with Ronald and Caleb Wiley as fullbacks. We didn’t want to expose Juanjo (Purata) in a position where maybe he’s not as comfortable as a right back. So, we felt that for this specific game, Ronald was the better choice. I felt again that the plan was working. He was doing a good job. I think the first goal is credit to Cucho, who did a fantastic shot with his weaker foot into the top corner. You tell your players to try to limit the strong foot of the opponent, and Ronald did that in that action.”
On Giorgos Giakoumakis having to do come back deeper tonight in midfield:
“Yes, I think it was probably part of us being deep in certain moments and he then dropped a little deeper in transition moments. Xande Silva was supposed to sometimes be a little underneath him and take care of that space, but at times when Xande was going outside, Giakoumakis was dropping into midfield. I think Thiago normally takes those spaces so GG doesn’t have to drop back. Next game, we will have Thiago available and we will use him a lot.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On what did not work well tonight:
“There was a moment before the first goal. I’ve always said that goals change games. Up until that point, I think we were frustrating them in terms of what they wanted to do. We lost the ball and within two, three passes they were inside our box. It’s just moments.”
On any positive moments the team can build off of tonight:
“Yeah, listen the first half I thought up until the first goal, we knew it was going to be a difficult game. We knew it would be a tough place to come. They are a good team. They are a team that wants the ball. They are good on the ball. All of those things combined, we were ok until the first goal. We will go back and watch the film and find areas where we can get better. But listen, it’s Game 1. We now will go into Game 2 at home. We have to make sure we are ready for that come Tuesday night.”
On if the win-or-go home aggressive mentality suit the team’s style:
“We knew we were going to have to be aggressive tonight. Just because we go to a back five, it doesn’t mean we want to be less aggressive. I think the tactical change of going to five and being on the road and with how they play in attack, we were coming in here to be aggressive and get after them. We want to try and be the same team on the road as we are at home. That’s an ongoing challenge with any team really. We want to get after teams. Of course when you have the atmosphere of Mercedes-Benz Stadium behind you, it helps. We are looking forward to that atmosphere come Tuesday night.”
Atlanta United midfielder Saba Lobjanidze:
On the attack tonight and getting back on track for Game 2 of series:
“Honestly, I’m really disappointed with how the attack played out tonight. But it’s still just the first game of the series. We have the second game coming up. We have to keep our heads up and continue working.”
On why the attack had trouble generating much tonight:
“I think it’s about the little details. We will watch the film and analyze those little details. We will look to find what the problem was tonight and solve it for the next game.”
On if the attack lacked any confidence tonight:
“I think Columbus played very well tonight. Credit to them. We didn’t play our best. That was the problem really. I think in the attack, we didn’t play our style of game like we have in previous games before this season.”
On what Columbus does well:
“They play very good. Also, our creative No. 10 Thiago (Almada) we didn’t have tonight. He’s one of the most important players in our attack. He creates a lot of chances for us. It was also hard playing without him for this match.”