The Open Cup is a funny competition. It’s the most direct route to a trophy and a spot in the Champion’s League, and it’s the opportunity for teams who may never play each other to face off on the pitch. The tournament is an opportunity for lower division sides to become giant killers, and for upper division sides to rest their primary players and see what the subs are made of.
Sometimes that just doesn’t pay off.
Atlanta United became the latest victim of a “cupset” Wednesday evening as Memphis 901 rolled into Kennesaw and delivered the Five Stripes’ first ever loss at Fifth-Third Bank Stadium. The fact that Atlanta struck the back of the net early thanks to a beautiful switch by Luiz Araujo and finish by Tyler Wolff does nothing to assuage the fact that the team simply looked terrible for every minute but that one in particular.
It was Atlanta’s earliest exit from the tournament, and probably one of the more frustrating displays ever exhibited by the club. That’s to take nothing from Memphis; Stephen Glass prepared the team well and they brought the battle to Kennesaw, a sentiment that Gonzalo Pineda echoed in his post-match press conference. He referred to the battle that Memphis had, and Atlanta’s lack thereof.
But another important point that Pineda made during his comments referred to the overall morale of the team and the expectations of the club. He mentioned that he gave opportunities to some players who have shown they deserve it in training, and that it’s up to them to perform. He also noted that Atlanta United players are held to a higher standard, and implied that they have to live up to that expectation. That isn’t to say there weren’t some individual performances that were solid - Clement Diop kept the scoreline manageable, Noah Cobb had a solid outing, and Franco Ibarra put in a lot of work with 10 tackles - but the overall lack of cohesion was simply too much to overcome.
Regardless, the Five Stripes have a tough pill to swallow and fans can only hope this was a wake-up call in the same sense they hoped it would be a way to build confidence. Check out the comments from Pineda, Ronald Hernandez, and Tyler Wolff below and be sure to comment!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
On what’s concerning going forward
“Well I will have to analyze the game on video and all that. The first thing that comes to mind is we are not good enough first on the ball. That’s something we work on every day, very hard on how to have good possessions of the ball and create chances, and today it did not manifest, and then we weren’t ready for the battle. I felt that today Memphis were more ready for the battle, they were trying to win the duels and do everything they can to put pressure on us. Our team was not showing that, you know that fears in certain parts of the field and those visual cues that we worked very hard on high pressure and put pressure on the opponent for mistakes. It didn’t manifest today. So I take responsibility for these because I rotate based on many factors that we have, within the team in our rotation of players. fitness levels, game on Saturday away. A very, very good game that we have on Saturday against a very tough opponent. So I made rotations and I will take responsibility for those rotations for the, for today’s result.”
On rotations having affect the lack of pressure and execution
“Well a little is cohesion, right? The cohesion of things when I rotate 10 out of the starting 11, you know, that played the last weekend on Sunday. So then the cohesion part maybe at times the communication, I felt that we were able to solve it properly. But we were not ready for that. So they didn’t manifest it today. it’s at times hard, you know, when you play against a team that looks in rhythm that play consistently, they’re cohesive, they pretty much put their starting lineup that being played for the very beginning. And we put a team that never played together. So that that is the kind of the risk that you take when you rotate in that manner against this type of opponent. . And I take that risk because I tried to, to number one, give opportunities to play the habit and see minutes, number one, number two try to rotate based on fitness levels, certain guys that, you know, we want it to take care of their load and the management of their load. And I will take responsibility on those.”
On letting up late goals, 90 minutes or later
“Well, I will say that we also score a few balls in the last minute. We work on those things, we work on those things, guys. You know, I put rules conditions in certain training sessions about last 30 seconds of small tiny games and I try to put that double message when you are losing you’re never give up. You can, you know, score a goal at the end. And if you’re winning how you can close out the game, how could you can against a very motivated team to coming to equalize how you can hold the result, be good defensively manage the tempo. So we work on those things. And you know, this time again, it happened. This happens to be more mental to me than any other thing. But the reality is today, we didn’t play well. And we need to correct many things.”
On how to keep the morale of the team up
“Well, telling them the reality, I would say. The reality on where we are, are in Atlanta united, the standard is very high. And we try to do a very good job on being specific with the individual messages that we provide to them. But at some point, it’s also you know, they have to take that ownership at times it can be only the manager who, who motivates you as a player, I always think that the motivation is intrinsic. And you have to believe in yourself. So that to me is the difference between quality of the players at times is just the self belief, and you know, the confidence that you have in yourself and your abilities, and you are normally motivated for playing the game. So I think I will do my part and coaching them on, you know, being specific in the areas they can improve and at some point they need to take ownership on that as well. And that’s both ways. We will continue to work on that.”
Atlanta United defender Ronald Hernández
On tonight’s result and how the team is feeling
“We are in shock because they didn’t beat us with quality, they beat us because of attitude. We are upset about it because we talked about it before the game. We as a team are more upset than you guys.”
On how to fix the attitude ahead of next match
“By changing the mentality. By turning this blow into a positive. We are doing well in the league, but we have the players with the capacity to turn it around.”
On trying to change the mentality during a match
“During the match it’s a little difficult. We are playing and for every position it can be a little different. But as a leader we have four or five guys on the field at all times who can manage that. And we try to fix it. That’s also what halftime is for, to fix those mistakes and go out and play.”
On the team not being ready tonight
“Today they had more desire to play. We scored early and we had a good start, but then that good start ended up turning around on us.”
Atlanta United midfielder Tyler Wolff
On what’s going through his mind after scoring his first goal but losing the match
“Yeah, obviously individually happy to get the goal but tonight it was about getting three points and moving on in the tournament. Going forward we can’t get too high, can’t get too low. We have a game this weekend, a big game, and we’re flying, doing well in the league so we just have to keep going and learn from this.”
On when he realized that Memphis was more aggressive tonight
“I think after the first goal in the first half we couldn’t really get set and they kept coming. We didn’t have many answers. It just wasn’t great.”
On why the things the team has been training didn’t work tonight
“You can say it’s a new group and having to get through those challenges of being with new guys, different chemistry, but I think we had the opportunities to win tonight. It needs to come more from the players and when we get the opportunities we have to do better. Some of the guys that don’t get the opportunities, we have to step up and do more for ourselves.