The Atlanta United team that played Saturday night isn’t the same team that hit the pitch a week prior, much less the same as the one from 2022, and that should garner some excitement going forward.
The result wasn’t ideal, nor deserved (should’ve been 2-1 Atlanta), and by no means was it perfect, but the improvements are visible in only a week of work. The quotes will provide more context, but Derrick Etienne spoke about how the team really focused on taking less shots from outside the box and providing more service to inside the 18, and that was blatantly obvious Saturday.
While an argument could be made about Toronto FC’s early season form, their only good chance and goal in the match came from the run of an Italian national team player who took advantage of the slightest of openings. It was mentioned last week that the mistakes could be solved via footage analysis and work on the training ground, and this week is no different.
A distinct contrast exists between a style of football that’s forced when injuries and other issues plague a team compared to one in which a plan is executed and the ball just doesn’t quite find the back of the net as often as it should. Sure, at face value, Atlanta United drawing to Toronto FC on Saturday night may feel somewhat like 2022, but when every aspect of the performance is factored and evaluated, there’s plenty in which to be excited.
Giorgos Giakoumakis made his debut in an evening where the Five Stripes dominated almost every statistical category available. For most of the match prior to that moment the team was on the cusp of goal after goal, and the main criticism would simply be the finishing. The other side of that coin, though, is simply that the goal scoring part of this game we love is, in fact, the really hard part.
Matheus Rossetto’s strike to draw level shortly after Bernadeschi’s goal was the product of both Rossetto and the team moving forward, both figuratively and literally. In the post-match press conference he mentioned that his attacking movement had been a topic of discussion between he and Gonzalo Pineda, and though the goal took a fortunate deflection...what’s the old adage, “you can’t catch fish if you never put your line in the water.” Rossetto took what his coaches are working with him on and it paid off, and the rest of the team is no different.
The Five Stripe’s press had Toronto shook for most of the game. Ibarra had another outstanding match, Almada was all over the pitch, Miles Robinson somehow looks more athletic than he did before the injury, Brad is in the back making moves, Gutman and Lennon and Wiley all had good moments in the attack, Miguel Berry found himself involved more, Purata got on the end of a solid chance at the end of the first half, Etienne entered and caused some chaos, and Araujo still had some good runs and sequences early on before becoming less impactful as the match moved forward. And of course, it was very obvious what Giakoumakis’ presence brought to the team when he entered.
In fairness to everyone involved, including PRO referees, that’s not to mention the goal that was called back for “offside” and the contact in the box on Derrick Etienne. The potential penalty could be considered a bit soft, sure. But in the run up to what should have been Giakoumakis’ opening goal Juanjo Purata was absolutely not offside, and until a different angle is shown to prove that wrong, there’s no convincing otherwise. But that’s PRO, right? Fans and the league continue to put up with shoddy officiating week in and week out.
Over the years fans, players, and pundits have watched (and been frustrated by) the directive to keep the offside flag down unless they’re very certain the play was off in the first place. Constantly this directive would lead to unnecessary 30 or 40 yard sprints and potential injuries but referees followed it as if it were a Bible scripture. So, how in the world does a linesman throw up the flag immediately on Purata when the play was clearly that close?
Not to mention, if VAR is stopping the restart because it was that close, why is the head ref not at least running over to take a look? At minimum it would assuage the fan’s concerns somewhat to know the evidence was at least examined by the one person on the pitch who has the final decision. Hot take perhaps, but if the head ref refuses to go look when VAR gets involved and is later found out to be wrong, they should be fined. Otherwise there is no accountability, because explanations like this one below by the head ref are simply insulting everyone’s intelligence.
A team controls what they control, though, and Atlanta will look to continue fine-tuning tactics, developing chemistry, and keeping that forward progress as they prepare for their first road match against Charlotte FC next Saturday. Enjoy the positivity where it shows because results, while obviously the most important factor, don’t always tell the whole story, and there is plenty to build on after only the second match of the season.
Check out below what Gonzalo Pineda, Derrick Etienne, Matheus Rossetto, and Giorgos Giakoumakis had to say after the match, and be sure to leave your comments below!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On if the match was frustrating due to only scoring one goal despite many chances:
“I would say this match was much, much better compared to last year. It was close to perfection in some ways, especially in terms of the active defending and not allowing [Toronto FC] clear chances. It was just [Federico] Bernadeschi’s counterattack that was a goal, and another one that was called offside, but I think it still counts in the expected goals because the referee let it play out. But it was very good by my team being on the front foot, dictating the tempo, dominating in the final third, having numbers in the final third, creating chances in so many ways such as being in prime positions, crosses, shots from distance, shots from inside [the penalty area], set pieces, and the pressure was very good too. I am very happy with the performance, but as you can imagine, we are not happy with the result. We just have to continue with the process, which I think is going well, and the team is playing very well. I think once [Giorgos] Giakoumakis is completely incorporated into our system and he gels out with Luis [Araujo], Thiago [Almada], Caleb [Wiley], Derrick [Etienne JR], and Brooks [Lennon] we are going to have a very interesting final third product.”
@GonzoPineda8 said for us talk about the offside call because all he can say is “the refs are always right.” I.e. (and he did not say this) but we all know that offside call was garbage. Said the team was playing well & is excited about Giakoumakis gelling with the team. #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/E0faT0mbyv— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) March 5, 2023
On the play of Giorgos Giakoumakis:
“I think it is very unfair to judge him because he has only had one training session with the team and had a late flight on Thursday night, so I was actually a bit worried that I gave him more minutes than I was expecting for him, and I know he is fit, but the flight and the mental preparation worried me a little bit. What he brought though was how he is fully committed to running inside the box to have double-movement, to counter-press, to make runs in behind, and his energy just kind of attracts some action. The goal comes from him kind of blocking a little bit of the defender from [Matheus] Rossetto’s shot, and his pressing is just imposing. Once again, once he starts to gel out with the other players, he is going to be great.”
On the sustainability of Atlanta United’s pressing tactics:
“We expect to sustain this type of pressure, especially at home. At times we have to see, and the game plan might be different depending on the opponent, but pressing high at home is going to be a must for us throughout the season. I think we started a little slow last week, for different reasons, but today you saw a good example of how we want to press and the type of pressure we want to put on the other team. I have to say that my sports science department, my coaches, and my players did a great job this preseason. I told you last year, overall, that was the most intense training sessions Atlanta United had ever had, and this preseason we surpassed that by 30 or 40 percent in terms of intensity. So, we feel like physically we can sustain this, and we will see how we are doing when the congested part of the season starts to happen, but I think, at least for the first nine weeks, we expect this type of performance on the fitness side and the amount of pressure we apply in the final third.”
On Toronto FC’s goal and a lack of pressure:
“I have to rewatch the play for sure, and analyze it in detail, because at times we only see the last part of the action, and we have to see how it started, how it was developed, and how we can do better. That is why I did not say we played to perfection. It was close to perfection just because of that play, in my opinion. We played a great game, in every phase, aside from that play, and a little bit in the final third, because the type of crosses we are putting in, the timing of the runs, the movement inside the box, and the decision making in the final pass we can probably do a little better. I am very pleased with the rest of my team though.
On explanations from the referees about two questionable calls:
“I got the explanation that the referee is always right, that is what I got. I have not seen the plays, so you probably have a better angle, and if you have it, and you think there was a mistake, then talk about it, because I cannot.”
Atlanta United midfielder Matheus Rossetto
On where the attacking threat that he’s providing now coming from
“It’s a good question because I’ve been working on attacking for a long time and last year I was trying but was farther back on the field. I’ve talked with Gonzalo about being a little higher, that playing higher I can score more goals and give more assists also.”
Rossetto super happy after scoring the goal, said he’s been working on getting forward more and it’s a directive from Pineda. Said the team working on pressing higher up the field & he’s been working on connecting with Almada more. 1/2 #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/flFPT6ZhrW— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) March 5, 2023
On if the players feel stronger physically because the press looked effective
“Yes, I feel that all the players are feeling good now, starting to press a little higher and it’s going well. And we’re working on that in training also and we’re going to continue that way. Now with the arrival of Giakoumakis also, we can work a little more, press a little more.”
On the chemistry with Thiago Almada
“It’s going very well. This year I’ve been talking with him more, trying to play together more. We know Thiago has a lot of quality, Luiz also, GG also. I think we’re starting to feel something very good for the season.”
On how he’s feeling physically
“I feel very good.”
On Luiz Araújo, what he’s missing, the conversations he has with Luiz
“We know that Luiz is a different player on the team, in MLS. A very fast player who can score in the first minutes, at the end, in the middle of a game. I think it’s going to happen, he’ll score two, three goals. He’s working hard every day. Just give him time and it’ll happen.”
On scoring his first goal for the club
“I feel good. Happy also. If we’d won the game I’d feel better. I’ve been working hard to score. I hope to continue and score five-10 goals this year, it’d be nice.”
Atlanta United forward Derrick Etienne Jr.:
On his fitness
“I’m feeling pretty good and getting minutes every game so that’s all you can ask for. I’m trying to ramp it up and just be ready for when I get called to start.”
@detienne_10 confident about the team going forward and their ability to keep their head up when things don’t quite go the way they want or expect.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) March 5, 2023
Laughed when asked about the reffing, understandably can’t talk about it but I will and we will on @ScarvesNSpikes 1/2 pic.twitter.com/dFdtRBxmKx
On if he feels he is ready to start:
“I think that is up to the coach. I mean I would love to say I am ready, but I have a job to do and I do whatever the coach asks of me.”
On how he feels the game went:
“I think that it is a fair statement to say that we put them under a lot of pressure. The only chance I can remember them getting is their one goal so obviously, we want to work on that and be able to close that and shut that out. I’ll have to watch the play and see what happened. I think we put them under a lot of pressure but it is still early in the year so I think those chances will be finished later on in the year. I think it’s a good step in the right direction and again giving up the first goal showing the mentality to come back, we definitely did not want to do that at home so there are definitely things to build on but there’s definitely good things that we got from the game. We’re good and we get ready for work and all get ready for Charlotte next.”
On the early portion of the season and building towards your best performances:
“No. I don’t think so at all. We always want to perform our best, do our best, put on a good game for the fans and get results. So, we understand that we have been in this situation before early on in the year and not being as sharp as we want to be but that comes with game minutes and stuff like that. Of course, we want to be as sharp as possible. Everyone is still frustrated that we weren’t able to get the win but you know i think that’s just things that come with working yourself into full game fitness.”
Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis:
On how long it takes for his fitness level’s up to 90 minutes
“It is not about fitness level only, I was feeling a little bit tired, too much travel with the Visa and all that stuff, normal process. So, next week I think it is going to be totally different.
Giakoumakis said he wasn’t happy because he didn’t score but will be in form in a couple of games. Said the travel and visa issues had him tired (not a fitness issue). Said sometimes he could score a hat trick and not be happy.— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) March 5, 2023
1/2 #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA pic.twitter.com/9tsMta9eTH
On his performance tonight and how he thinks he did
“I demand a lot of myself; even if I score a hattrick, I will not be happy sometimes. I may be too egoist, and I know it’s not good, but this is me.
On his first impression and experience at the Mercedes Stadium
“First of all, the fans were amazing, I have to thank them because they welcomed me so warmly and the atmosphere was incredible! I think it would be even better if I could combine the atmosphere with the performance, because I think the performance would have been really good with a win and with 3 points.
On his thoughts on the style of play of this game
“I felt that it suits me a lot. We will create a lot, score lots of goals, and I am honestly really happy with that. We can see that there is a huge improvement since the last game. We dominated the game; we had the posession of the ball. Yeah, we can tell that we showed today that we are a big team, and that we can achieve many things.”
As usual, be sure to go back and listen to our post-match Twitter Spaces show with the Scarves And Spikes crew to hear what fans had to say after the final whistle.