If you listen carefully, you can still hear the echos of fan’s screams from Mercedes-Benz Stadium resonating off the walls of the buildings in downtown Atlanta.
You can also still see the souls of San Jose players drifting up into the sky after Thiago Almada’s brace captured all three points for the Five Stripes.
Atlanta United is no stranger to the dramatic flair; in fact, they’ve sort of hung their hat on being that club. Opening day 2023 was no exception. Ludacris showed up to hammer the golden spike, over 65,000 fans packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cheer on the good guys, club legend Michael Parkhurst appeared in a sweet pre-match hype video, and the vibe just felt good.
Unfortunately, San Jose Earthquakes decided they’d try and spoil the party in the 12th minute as a Cristian Espinoza cross found Jeremy Ebobisse’s head, resulting in an early 1-0 lead. Atlanta United held off a couple of decent San Jose chances and created a few of their own before Andrew Gutman won a penalty kick after sending in a cross that found a San Jose defender’s arm inside the box.
The resulting PK was missed by Luiz Araujo, and from that point until the half it felt like the team slightly reverted back to rough habits from 2022.
Enter Brad Guzan. Leaving much to the imagination, Andrew Gutman said that the big, bald, mother%$#*ing wall had a fiery halftime speech to get the guys back on track. And if we’re being honest, that sort of feels like what the team was missing last season, right?
The Five Stripes came out in the second half and made a few changes, including the intros of Derrick Etienne and Miguel Berry. Luis Abram and Amar Sejdic would eventually see time, and the team just looked like they were on the cusp of at least netting an equalizer. San Jose started their dark arts especially early, and two separate stoppages saw a stretcher get brought out to the pitch and subsequently be waved off as the San Jose player in question suddenly used a Max Revive and returned to life. Concacaf.
Anyway, that led to a World Cup amount of stoppage time.
We're well on our way to a World Cup amount of stoppage time. #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
And guess WHO FREAKING
PLAYED IN WON A WORLD CUP YOU HAVE ENTERED HIS WORLD THIAGO ALMADAAAAAA!
THIAGO.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) February 26, 2023
Take a breath. Ok, Lennon got his first assist of the campaign and Thiago Almada did Thiago Almada things and probably won goal of the week. 1-1 in stoppage time, 93rd minute, thankfully we can leave here with a point, right? All those dark arts by San Jose shafted us, right?
Oh booooooy Etienne wins a free kick at about 25 yards directly in front of the box. Here we go....— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
Thiago Almada only scores bangers™️ pic.twitter.com/jTcaN2t0Nu— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) February 26, 2023
Pardon my English.
HOLY SHIT Y'ALLL OMFG ALMADA WITH THE STONE COLD STUNNER— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
What's better than a Thiago Almada match-winning free kick deep in stoppage time?— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
A Thiago Almada match-winning free kick in stoppage time...set to Titanic music, of course. #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA pic.twitter.com/q9jVmLDDz4
You’ve seen the goal...but watch the crowd. I daresay, this stadium hasn’t been that insane since pre-covid. And that’s special. What a golazo. What a night. What a player.
Ultimately, you never want the team to have to rely on late-game heroics to win a match, but you absolutely need to celebrate a truly historic night when it happens. Atlanta United has won its opening day match, and let’s always take the celebrations over the frustrations.
The team looks ahead to settling upon a more consistent starting XI, and let’s not forget that the Five Stripes just vanquished an entirely full-strength San Jose side. Was it pretty? No. Was it sustainable? No. Was it a step in the right direction? Absolutely.
The new Apple TV/MLS deal set in motion a slightly different post-match routine. Media heard from the opposition coach, then chatted with players in the locker room, and then heard from Gonzalo Pineda. The locker room was definitively more upbeat than at any point last season, and that isn’t necessarily a testament to the fact that they won. Even during great wins last season it felt like something was just...missing.
Not this time. The group has chemistry. They have spice. They have a personality that shows when they playfully chide and mess with each other during interviews. It’s a stark contrast to the somewhat dreariness of last year, and it’s refreshing. It’s what any fan would be happy to see from their team. Check out everything they had to say below after this smashing opening-day win.
Atlanta Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On what it says that this is first comeback in franchise history after trailing at the 75th minute:
“Yeah, I just heard that stat as well and it’s fantastic. We can talk about but before that I want to say something about two things that came to my mind. Two emotional moments today for me. First of all looking at Anton (Walkes’) tifo, I was emotional for sure. He was a great guy for us. We really miss him here with us. That was a nice touch from the club and supporters for Anton. He deserves that. The other one was I was talking to Nathan, a little kid (the honorary captain today). He’s one of those kids who this was his Make-A-Wish to be a honorary captain. He was telling me how much he loves football, he’s a big fan of Lionel Messi. His family was amazed with the opportunity to be here and be with Atlanta United with the team during a match. I hope this memory lasts forever. It was a nice opportunity to share with his idols. Thiago (Alamada) and Luiz (Araujo) he was telling them how much he loves watching them.
@GonzoPineda8 said Anton’s tifo made him emotional. Also praised MakeAWish and young Deal’s wish to be here today. End of the game was special, said they needed to be better in transition, but the goals were special. Not worried about the previous season’s issues 1/3 pic.twitter.com/DdKV1RfFWa— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
As for the game, yes it was an emotional game. Some ups and downs, some good moments, some not great especially in transition. But the end of the game was special. The main part for the fans. I love that emotion when you think you are going to lose, then the emotions come from them. Thiago with the first goal from outside the box, and then that amazing golazo to win the game. It was special for us and I hope the fans are happy with it.”
On having a lot of shots from outside the box tonight?
“Yes, it’s tough to answer this because we don’t plan for that. We are messaging continously that we want more shots from inside, more from the primary assist zones, more crosses across the box between the goalkeeper and centerbacks or the cut backs. Today, it didn’t manifest like that. It was not characteristic for us this preseason. Collecting all the data from the preseason games, we didn’t have as many shots as we did today. I hope we can improve on that. But on the other side, we won with two shots from outside the box so it’s one of those where it’s hard to tell your players to not shoot, when they do that. But we want more quality chances that have higher probabilities to be on target. We will be working on that for sure.”
On if he’s worried that today’s match looked similar to performances from last year?
“No, not at all. Winning nowadays is so difficult, that we want to enjoy every three points that we earned. I think the team played really well at times and was dominating, on the front foot for the majority of the game. They forced a good opponent, I think San Jose did a great job today, they put us under some threats tactically with dangerous players. But eventually we forced them to play long balls all the time, which is not what they typically do. They have a coach who likes to play out of the back, and they were kicking it long most of the time. That’s a testament to our pressure. We were dictating the tempo of the game, which at sometimes needs to be faster and more proactive. But at the end of the day what I’m happy with is the mentality of the team. Two goals in end of the game is testament to the top mentality that I want. At times you can win in different ways, today we won like this. We will enjoy and reflect on the film in the next few days and try to correct ahead of the next game.”
Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada
On how he feels scoring two impressive goals and winning the first game at home
“Very happy for this victory, the effort from the team. It was important to win at home, the first game of the season so we’re very happy for the victory and it was due to everyone on the squad.”
Thiago Almada saying on the final free kick he and Araujo waited to see how the keeper was going to set up.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) February 26, 2023
Said it was so important to get a W tonight for the teams morale.
Said the team can be sharper in moving forward and the final 3rd. #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/pwnDxYl83J
On what was going through his mind on the winning free-kick goal
“We were shouting with euphoria because it was in the last minute, so very happy.”
On if he felt sure of taking the last free kick
“Yes, we had a play with Luiz, we waited to see how they were positioned, the goalkeeper. I said I can take it, I kicked it and luckily it was a goal.”
On if he thinks the team is missing anything
“Surely we’ll have things to improve, like every team. It’s the first week, we have to learn and correct the mistakes so that they don’t keep happening.”
On his shirt that read “Fuerte Apache,” if he had people at the game today and the message to his friends and family
“My Dad was here today, but the celebration was for the people in my neighborhood who always support me. There’s a restaurant there, helping people who don’t have food to eat. I dedicate today to them, my family, my Mom and little sister who are there.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On if this game felt any like last season’s games?
“No, do not compare anything to last season, because I am going to tell you now that it is a new year and a new team. It has got nothing to do with last year. So stop that narrative right now or you’re going to piss me off.”
@bguzan aka winner of the Golden Spike, thoroughly a leader presence in the locker room. Said this year can’t be compared to last. Said he and @_milesrobinson_ had a moment after the game where they just were happy to be back. As always just a fun guy to listen to. #ATLUTD 1/2 pic.twitter.com/nq652jrCwh— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
On if he heard the crowd on his first save?
“I was too busy yelling at Andrew (Gutman) because he failed to defend inside the box. Apparently, that was a thing last year but we’re not talking about last year. The crowd is fantastic from start to finish, I said afterward that we’re going to need them. You know, it’s a big year for this club, for this team and everyone. Regardless of if it's the first minute or the 90th minute they didn’t let up. That energy is felt on the field and we need every bit of it going forward.”
On being back playing in this environment?
“It felt great to be back out there. It felt great to be with the guys. It felt great to play my part, do my job and help us get 3 points. Everyone was phenomenal tonight in terms of the work rate and just getting after it and not throwing the towel in.”
On Gutman telling reporters that he talked to the team at halftime?
“We need to hold ourselves to a certain standard. We need to make sure that we don’t come in here feeling sorry for ourselves. In any sport regardless of what sport it is, the opposition is coming in here to try and do something that they think is going to give them the opportunity to win. We are trying to do something else that we think is going to give ourselves the best chance to win. The other team is entitled to have the ball. The other team is obviously going to score goals at times. It’s how we react in situations, it’s how we help each other, it’s how we fight for each other, all these things. We go in these difficult moments, you come in at half time and we missed a penalty, we’re down one, we’re at home the first game of the season. It is easy to come in and sulk and feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t do that we need to understand the responsibility that comes with wearing this shirt. Every time, whether it’s the first minute, or the first half, or the second half, or the 98th minute we have to make sure we are giving everything. The guys were fantastic tonight.”
Atlanta United defender Andrew Gutman:
On the team rallying to win after trailing in the 75th minute for the first time in franchise history
“It says we have a different mentality this year. To go down early and trail the entire game is one thing, but to never give up and continue to push all the way to the 97th minute is amazing for us and we’re going to take that confidence and keep using it for the rest of the season.”
@_andrewgutman_ said he just blacked out at the game winner and turned around and saw Almada celebrating with his shirt off Praised the fans and how amazing they were.— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 26, 2023
Talked about how @_milesrobinson_ shut down that side on defense. Also, said our podcast was fun #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/hcCQXAciBS
On what was going through his mind on the free kick
“I don’t know, I kind of blacked out, to be honest with you. I didn’t believe it went in and then I kind of just ran around and I looked behind me and Thiago has his shirt off and everyone’s going crazy. With 70,000 people screaming like that, it’s a cool feeling so it was a great win for us.”
On how the team overcame their frustration at the beginning of the game
“I don’t think we were frustrated. We dominated a lot of the game. I think the first 20 minutes we were kind of on our back foot, but then we found our footing and we started to push forward. We were just unlucky with a couple of chances but again we kept pushing and we found two goals and we got the result. Sometimes it just comes down to those little special moments and we have those players that can create those moments for us.”
On how good it felt to have Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan back in the lineup
“It was amazing. Sometimes at halftime you just kind of need a kick in the ass and Brad is that guy to give it to you, in a positive way. It’s not ‘I’m trying to knock you in any way, but bring that little energy, that little bite’. Miles with the left winger [Cade Cowell], Miles made him look slow. To have Miles back there is amazing for us.”
If you missed our celebratory post-match Twitter Spaces show, it’s live on the bird app for you to listen to.
February 26, 2023
Also, make sure you tune in Wednesday at 7 to the Scarves and Spikes Youtube as we review this match, preview the next one, and bring in yet another special guest! Last week it was Kevin Egan (!!) who was an absolute joy to have on the show.
Let us know what y’all thought about the match in the comments below!
ICYMI @AndrewMarchand and @Ourand_SBJ how about this Apple TV synced in radio call for the extra time winner for 21yr old Thiago Almada.— Edwin Games (@EdwinGames4) February 26, 2023
Atlanta 92.9 Atlanta United play by play @MikeConti929 on the call.
Call of the week nominee?
None may be better this week pic.twitter.com/yJPjcA2FaQ