Well, that was fun!
Atlanta United returned home and mightily handled business against a stout Columbus Crew squad to force game three back up in Ohio on Sunday. Despite MLS picking this match for a random Tuesday evening at the tail-end of rush hour traffic, and attendance being about 3000 below normal, the Benz was on fire.
The phoenix tifo was perfectly fitting and would foreshadow the events of at least the next 90 minutes (though here’s hoping it marks a lot more).
The first 45 minutes was a tense affair with both teams trying to play their game, and it had a bit of everything, including one offside Atlanta goal. But it would still be the Five Stripes who opened up the scoring thanks to a heads-up pass by Matheus Rossetto to Brooks Lennon near the end line, who turned and placed an absolute dime for Giorgos Giakoumakis. He thundered it home for the first MLS Playoff goal for Atlanta United since 2019.
Just when everyone thought Atlanta United had pulled one over on Columbus and would head into the locker room up 1-0, the Crew leveled the match via a miscue in midfield. But in a further surprising turn of events, it would be
Spider Man Xande Silva who glided one into the roof of the net to bring back Atlanta’s one goal advantage at the half. Cue up the Spider Man memes.
Xande Silva to the rescue! pic.twitter.com/hUSEqKJVg8— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) November 8, 2023
The goal was a beautiful team effort, from the midfield fighting to win the ball back via pressure, to Saba’s hustle and fearlessness, to Giakoumakis’ humility and wherewithal to lay off the ball to an on-running Silva.
The team emerged from the locker room and kept their proverbial foot on the gas.
Yes, what happened next may go down as one of the toughest misses in Atlanta United history, but it may also go down as a decidedly positive moment for the team. A beautiful, quick counterattacking sequence led to Atlanta completely in on goal, with Giakoumakis driving forward on nothing but a net and Columbus’ keeper. He unselfishly laid the ball off to Xande Silva, who then had nothing but about 4 yards of turf and an open net in front of him.
He skied it. He doubled over in agony. It would’ve been the insurance goal to make it 3-1. The stadium momentarily - and collectively - gasped.
And without missing a beat, Giakoumakis ran over to him and physically helped him stand up, shake it off, and overcome the massive mental hurdle that had just presented itself. The Greek striker then turned to the crowd and started waving his arms to hype everyone back up.
It started in the Supporter’s Section.
And it spread to the entire stadium, until what seemed like the entire 41,850 people in attendance were chanting Xande’s name. He turned around and jogged back to position with his team building his confidence...and that was that. He played a few more minutes until he and Saba were subbed out, but in an instant the team - and Xande - collectively put that moment behind them. Be a goldfish, as Ted Lasso says.
That mentality to shake off such a tough moment proved to be massive, as it would be Edwin Mosquera who entered for Xande and became the next difference maker via a wonderful solo run. He laid it off to none other than Giakoumakis, who one-timed it back to him in the box before placing a perfect shot to make it 3-1.
The run, the finish, an absolute beauty from Edwin Mosquera pic.twitter.com/63hej3zSvy— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) November 8, 2023
In true spirit of 2023 Atlanta United, that wasn’t enough goals. When this team gets rolling in the attack they become almost unstoppable, and why not place the cherry on top with someone whose name hasn’t been mentioned yet: Thiago Almada. The Argentine MVP-contender did a ton of unsung-hero work in the match alongside Tristan Muyumba, who was also fantastic. Interestingly enough, Almada didn’t get credited with any assists, but his presence allowed the wingers, strikers, and midfielders so much more room to operate. That was the ultimate difference on the evening, but why not get a cheeky goal, too?
Thiago makes it look soooo easy pic.twitter.com/jnhnXWYpZV— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) November 8, 2023
Columbus would ultimately snag a consolation goal in stoppage off a well-taken corner, but the writing was on the wall: game three would be the decisive match in the series. Momentum, motivation, focus...the Five Stripes have it all going into the match back at Lower.com Field on Sunday, now they just have to capitalize.
Take a look below at what Pineda and about half the team had to say after the match, and be sure to leave us your comments below!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the play of Atlanta United tonight:
“Credit to the team. We came back right away, which is a signature of a good mentality. Defend until the last ball, right? Set pieces, little pieces of the game, being in charge of our area, I think we can do that a little better, but other than that, I would say we were aggressive and very disciplined tactically. These types of games against Columbus [Crew SC] require us to be tactically disciplined and we were. We are aggressive, pressing hard, and pressing together, which is great against a team that plays very well from the back. Then, how we played from the back, I think we were pretty good. It was impressive how many times we were able to disrupt the opponent, and then we were able to rush the final third. I think, today, we had just a few shots on goal, but we had the pressure, the crosses, and the numbers inside the box to make it happen. I think this is an ideal scenario for this team.”
On what he saw in training to feel confident coming into the match:
“The process. We trust the process. We think, as a Club, that we are doing the right things. We think we have the right players at the moment, and we have players that care. Missing Thiago [Almada] in the first leg, that made us change a little bit, but I trusted the process that we have here and knew it was good and the players would come in with a strong mentality, and I saw that in their eyes, in their reactions, and in the training sessions, so I was confident.”
On the play of Tristan Muyumba:
“I have many thoughts, but I will start with Tristan [Muyumba] just because you are asking. [Tristan] had an outstanding game in a game when we were playing against one of the best midfields in the league. I think Aidan Morris and [Darlington] Nagbe are one of the best pairs in the league at the moment, and today, what [the midfield] did, whether it was [Jay Fortune] and Muyumba, or [Matheus] Rossetto and Muyumba, it was amazing. We really put together a good rhythm and were really disrupting [Columbus] on and off the ball. Our midfield was really, really solid, and Tristan probably shined a little bit more just because we gave him a more free-floating roll so he could press, and because of that he was in higher areas at some moments. But, credit to him because it is not easy to tweak what we tweaked in the midfield, going to the other side, actually playing a little more on the left today, and he did amazing. Maybe that helped him a little bit to connect with some other players, but I thought it was a very complete game from many players, but especially that pair in the midfield was very good.”
On the reaction of the crowd and the team to Xande Silva’s miss:
“Let me first go one step back, saying that it is great to see our goal-scorer being unselfish and to pass the ball to Xande [Silva]. That is the first thing I want to highlight from that play, which was a fantastic play, and normally our number 9, who wants to score every goal possible, was humble and a team player, playing the best possible pass. Now, it was of course a mistake from Xande, but that reaction from the whole team to come together and support him in that moment, it wasn’t easy, because at times those mental breaks where you miss a good goal, those can be a mental break for the team. We were able to come together as a team and overcome that adversity though, and then the fans came together and were cheering for Xande, understanding that it could happen to anyone, and [Xande] had scored a fantastic goal in the first half, and he has been great for us, so I expect him to keep his confidence high.”
Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson:
On his feelings after the game
“Yeah, I mean we needed to win to keep our season going so it was obviously a must-win game and we did it.”
On the kind of confidence they have, going into Game 3
“I think we got some momentum after scoring four goals on them, so hopefully we can continue that, continue to grow and if we do that, we will win.”
On what the difference was in the offense today
“Just playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium helps us out a lot and obviously the fact that Thiago (Almada) was back tonight helped us out as well.”
Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon:
On what he feels was the X-Factor tonight
“I think the difference between this game and our last game in Columbus is we were way more aggressive offensively. We took more shots on goal. We had a lot more dangerous crosses from wide areas. That’s kind of how we created many chances tonight. We scored four, but I think it could have been five or six tonight.”
On how much help it was to have Thiago Almada back
“It’s a massive help to have one of the best players in the league back. We missed him in Columbus when he was serving his suspension. We are super happy to have him back. We have him again on Sunday, so were excited.”
On what kind of momentum, the team felt with the second goal in the first half
“Exactly, unfortunately we have conceded a lot of goals right before the half time has ended this season. So, it is such a good reaction from the guys to concede right before half, but then also score another one and go off the goal. You know, it kind of changes the momentum going into halftime. You know, we conceded a goal right at halftime in Columbus. If we can change that and stay sharp all 90-minutes I think we are going to be alright.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan
On what he saw from the team tonight
“Confidence, desire, resilience in terms of getting after [Columbus Crew] and putting pressure on them, and winning the ball higher up the field. You know, those are moments that change games, and maybe it was not every time that we came away with a fantastic chance, or even a goal, but in those moments, where you’re winning the ball high up the field and disrupting what the other team is trying to do, that gives our guys confidence and takes away from them at the same time.”
On what contributed to tonight’s victory
“Just mentality. Being on the front foot, and obviously being at home, you want to be aggressive. We talked about getting the fans and the supporters behind us, and we knew that was going to be a crucial part, and they were incredible throughout the entire game. It is a massive win and a pleasure to play here at home, but now, we have to roll up our sleeves and go to Ohio and find a way to get another result.”
On if playoff matches help the team learn more about themselves
“Not necessarily. We already know what we have within the squad and within each of us, it is a matter of pulling it out of us and really applying ourselves to make sure that we are always switched on. In the first couple of minutes, Julian [Gressel] gets a chance right off a corner, but that is not [Columbus Crew] being better than us, that is just second balls. The ball fell right to Julian inside the box, and we were under it a bit there, and there was another one where Miles [Robinson] made a good block, and these are all plays that probably go unnoticed, but they ultimately have a massive influence on the outcome.”
Atlanta United forward Edwin Mosquera
On the moment he came into the game and giving the team more confidence
“I think I contributed to the confidence that the coaching staff and my teammates are giving me.”
On if he’s ready for Game 3 in Columbus
“Yes, we have to be ready, we have to be prepared. God willing we will win three points.”
On how a player enters a game focused and with confidence to score
“I think the confidence comes from my teammates, they’re giving me confidence in training, all the time they’re giving me confidence and when I enter the game I come in free.”
On if that confidence helps him feel more comfortable in his position
“Yes, it makes me feel more comfortable because I can contribute on the left, the right. The confidence is helping me perform better on the field.”
Atlanta United forward Xande Silva:
On his spiderman mask celebration after scoring the goal
“My son loves spiderman so it was for him. He was watching the game at home.”
On his missed opportunity in front of goal in the second half
“I don’t mind, it’s part of the game you know? You score, you miss and just forget about it, then go to the next game.”
On the fans response to that moment:
“You can feel like the fans are with me or with all of us. You get motivation to just keep going.”