Hallelujah! The Five Stripes just defeated the New York Red Bulls for the first time ever in regular season play and kept the clean sheet and this is not an April Fool’s joke. There were abundant yellow cards, a midfield dust-up, squandered Red Bulls chances, blood (literally), and pretty much everything else expected from an Atlanta/Red Bulls match. The multitude of storylines aside, it was the best possible result for Atlanta United after last week’s debacle in Columbus, and it showed that this iteration of the team has the ability to bounce back from a suboptimal match.
But the true moral of the story here is that the 17’s kit should never be changed. Atlanta has lost one match this season and it came when they donned a different outfit. Coincidence? I think not.
Atlanta United entered this match fully aware of the intense, high-press style of play the northern energy drink team would employ, and they weathered the storm time and time again throughout the night. The whole match will be recapped below, but it has to be mentioned that Purata was crucial defensively, and played perhaps one of the best matches he’s had in an Atlanta kit. Though some moments were dicey, it was nice to see the team bend but not break.
It was an early sequence of events, however, that would see the Five Stripes go up 1-0.
Miles Robinson played a dime of a long, diagonal ball over the top to Derrick Etienne on the left wing after the team had baited the Red Bulls slightly to the right side of the pitch. Etienne received the ball well and turned inward toward the box, taking his defender one-on-one before finding Thiago Almada in his favorite spot about 22 yards from goal. The young Argentine hit a screamer toward Red Bulls’ keeper Carlos Coronel who allowed it to fall loose in the 6-yard box, and it was Giorgos Giakoumakis who was waiting to pounce. The Greek striker calmly hammered the ball into the back of the net, marking the only goal of the match.
Atlanta, get used to seeing THIS ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/uUR8uPN7yD— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 1, 2023
Red Bulls never made it easy, though. A variety of factors made the match a slog, at times, mainly
New Jersey’s New York’s physicality. The refereeing was also suspect; sparing another tangent of “just call the game consistently,” an early gaf should have likely seen Carlos Coronel the recipient of some sort of punishment after misjudging a ball from Thiago Almada. Almada beat Coronel to the ball at the corner of the box and Coronel plowed into Almada without ever playing the ball itself, and Alex Chillowicz motioned to play on. Moments later play was stopped due to a head injury to the keeper stemming from that play.
The beginning of the second half saw the physical slog continue (10 yellow cards overall), with Derrick Etienne especially on the receiving end of multiple fouls. One such foul wasn’t given and play inexplicably continued, much to the disbelief of every Atlanta player and about 43,500 fans in the Benz. Giakoumakis, in his vast experience playing in the chaos room that is the Scottish Premiership, clearly saw the need for some street justice and ultimately stopped the play seconds later with a decisive tackle of his own.
In fairness, Giakoumakis got the ball, but he also got two feet and some shins as he laid out Peter Stroud with more of a message than a tackle. He wound up with a well-deserved yellow, but it seemed like a defining moment for the Five Stripes in the match. Pineda spoke about it in the post-match press conference, mentioning that he wants the team to bring that type of fight and that the team needs to garner respect from the rest of the league and the refs.
The match never got any easier from that point, but it served as the equivalent of giving the bully a black eye. The physicality was toned back somewhat, and Atlanta was able to benefit by slowing the game down.
A tactical change came in the 73rd minute as Machop Chol and Matheus Rossetto entered for Amar Sejdic and Derrick Etienne. Rossetto provided some midfield calm to assist in playing through the press (while also registering two very close shots), while Chol’s height helped win more aerial duels on the left wing. Chol also continued to show his improvement on the ball; he was confident while dribbling and he created a great chance that saw Red Bulls foul him and receiving a yellow to stop a direct run.
The final moments were nervy and it’s worth noting that no one was perfect on the evening. The Red Bulls had a few solid opportunities from which they never capitalized. The players who recently got back from international duty seemed, at times, a step off, but that’s to be expected. However, the fact that Atlanta scrounged out a tough win despite the lack of full training all week is to be commended, and if they can usher a win on low gas tanks then you have to be encouraged by what they could do with more time together.
This sentiment, and plenty more, was echoed by Pineda and the players in the quotes below, so check it out for yourself. As usual, be sure to comment with your thoughts below!
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda
On if tonight’s performance was what he was hoping to see
“Yes. Back to who we are. That was the theme of the week. The players showed who they are today. A team that wants to play always, that shows a lot of bravery to play under pressure. I just told them, 1-0 and I have my goalkeeper dribbling a player inside our own six-yard box. That’s not something I like all the time, but the message is very good. We want to always play. Also, in the moments we needed to defend, we defended. In the moments we won the duels, we won most of those. I’m very happy with a very good performance and obviously happy that this is the first time beating the Red Bulls in the regular season in team history.”
On the front four starting together for the first time tonight:
“I felt they did good. It was a difficult game. They didn’t have that many repetitions in the final third, so I think that is an area they can do better. But in those little moments when we broke them down, and had transitions moments, when we disrupted them, we created some dangerous situations. The goal starts with Miles (Robinson) playing a long ball to Derrick Etienne Jr. who cuts back to Thiago Almada and him shooting. Then (Giorgos) Giakoumakis’ instincts to get that rebound and score. We need to continue to work on that. I’m happy with the two chances in the second half from the prime assists zones on the right side. We need to create more of that type of chances.”
On what the message was at halftime:
“The first 15 minutes of the second half we were under pressure. They had two changes to their lineup at halftime and that kind of changed the dynamic. They went with two strikers, in the first half it was more of a 4-2-3-1 approach. The second half they changed to a 4-4-2 and it took us a little bit of time to get used to that. Then, I felt that the changes we did with Matheus Rossetto and Machop Chol helped in that moment of the game. I could send a message of how to tactically adjust. I felt after that we corrected and were more in control. But yes, you are correct there were some dangerous plays where we lost the ball in dangerous areas, kudos to the defenders for transitioning quickly there, but we need to correct some of those.”
Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis
On being the first to react and score a goal off a rebound
“As I said before, I get paid because of that. Yeah, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s an amazing feeling to score, to contribute to collect some points. It wasn’t the easiest game that I’ve had so far but in the end we got three points. It’s good to know that even in the games where you don’t perform very well, you get the three points and you move on.”
On if it felt like a game in Scotland because of the physicality
“Yes, it was the game that felt more like a Scottish game than an American game.”
On the challenge where he picked up a yellow
“Well, I don’t want to speak about the referee. We won and that’s the most important. I was also a bit frustrated with our performance. We didn’t do well in many aspects of the game and actually I went in a bit tougher than I wanted to and I made sure that this guy is okay and I would feel very bad if I would injure him.”
On where he feels the team could have done better
“Well, I think we could control a little bit better the game. I think we could have better possession of the game, create more. Sometimes you cannot play the best game but it’s important as I said to win the three points. This result matters because if you want to be champion, you have to win the games with a good or bad performance.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On if it was the response he’d hope to see
“Yeah. It was important that we corrected things from last week in terms of our mentality, and in terms of our application in the game. We knew today was going to be a different type of game. We had to roll up our sleeves a bit; and fight, battle for first balls, second balls. You know, especially the first 35 minutes I thought were really good. Then, we tangled a little bit but it was good in the first half. We needed a response in the second half to what they were going to bring, and I thought we had that. Like I said it wasn’t always pretty at times, but other times we played some really good football. We will take this and move on and use this again to continue to build upon.”
On how much of the yellow cards and shots on goal during the game is really about football or fight
“I think when you play them you understand what type of game it’s going to be. They are direct, they understand how they want to play, and so it is up to us to make sure we compete in certain aspects of the game that are going to be difference makers; and we did that for 90+ minutes tonight. You go into it knowing that we have the quality to play and link up and do those things. But to do those things you have to do the dirty part first.”
On his teammate Caleb Wiley’s performance tonight
“It wasn’t just him; it was everybody. Long ball, second ball, tackles, I mean It was a game where you needed to roll-up your sleeves and needed to be a man out there. It wasn’t going to be a getaway where you are sticking your leg away just for a tackle, you needed to throw your body into the tackle and I thought not only him, but everyone did that.”
Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley:
On his first start at left back this season:
“I think I did alright. It’s always fun to play in that position. It’s a position that I’ve played nearly my whole life, so to be back in that position feels great.”
On how to the team handled the Red Bulls pressure:
“Coming into the game we knew it would be more of a transitioning game. In training we prepared for that. We knew we had to stay on top of the second balls. Honestly, we just had to be very aggressive. The Red Bulls are an aggressive team for the whole 90 minutes. We had to stay with their intensity and match it and I think that’s what we did.”
On showing something tonight by winning in a more grinding out style:
“I think for me, any game I go into with the same mentality. I don’t really worry about my age or use that as an excuse. I just go out there and play soccer and have fun.”
On if this game meant anything to him after last year’s loss at Red Bulls:
“Most definitely. This is the first time we have beaten them (in the regular season). So, it’s very important not only to me but to the whole club and the fans too.”
We got started with the post-match show a bit late, but it was a good one. Be sure to listen via the tweet below!