That’s more like it! Atlanta United snapped their four game losing streak Wednesday night with a dominant performance over the Colorado Rapids, and wow...does it feel like a weight was lifted off everyone’s shoulders.
The overall state of the match and individual player performances were extremely encouraging; Atlanta stepped on the gas early and looked dominant on both sides of the ball. An early chance saw Miguel Berry play a ball to Luiz Araujo who took a shot from inside the box, which was blocked directly into the outstretched arm of a Colorado player. Thiago Almada immediately grabbed the ball to take the PK...and missed.
What happened next was low-key probably one of the most unsung moments in the Five Stripes’ 2023 season. The squad kept their head, pushed forward with their game plan, and didn’t fall apart after something didn’t go their way. They fought, and were rewarded only a few minutes later when Derrick Etienne drew a free kick in literally Thiago Almada’s favorite location on the pitch.
Atlanta kept the pressure into the half but couldn’t find an insurance goal. Thankfully, Quentin Westberg was only called into action for a couple of saves. One was a sneaky, long-distance shot after a late run that was curling into the top right of the net, and Westberg was able to parry it away while fully outstretched.
Giorgos Giakoumakis entered the match early in the second half, and the Five Stripes continued with their dominant performance. However, reminders of the worrisome trend of dominating matches and not putting away chances began to creep back into the collective conscience, and 1-0 didn’t seem like a solid lead. That all changed in the final ten minutes as Atlanta struck thunderously with back-to-back-to-back goals.
The sucker punch:
You'll always remember your first goal— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 18, 2023
Congrats, Tyler pic.twitter.com/bn9WbfcD6Z
A 4-0 rout of Colorado was just what the team needed to bounce back from the tough stretch they’ve had recently. Now the guys have to keep the momentum and take the game to a shorthanded Chicago Fire on the road. In the meantime, though, they’ll be sure to relish the quality they showed on the pitch and identify what worked so well Wednesday night.
Luiz Araujo played like a monster, and his goal was the culmination of 80 minutes of perhaps the best effort from him all season. Interestingly, the ball that finally hit the back of the net wasn’t one of his patented left-footed cannons, it was a strategic, finessed shot that caught the goalkeeper going the wrong way. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to speak with the media in the locker room to get his thoughts, but the signs in the past few matches have been encouraging for a guy who - rightfully - bears the brunt of much criticism.
Ronald Hernandez also had an outstanding match in his start at left back, winning ten tackles and only truly getting beat on a 50/50 once. He also found himself in the attack a handful of times, but his true stamp on this match consisted of his defensive prowess.
Miguel Berry, for all the criticism he’s received, was very involved in this match. In fact, he was looking at an assist early on when Araujo took the shot that ultimately led to the penalty. Berry was much more involved on the ball than he has been, and though the goal continues to elude him, it was rather refreshing to see how he dropped deeper to provide some hold up play and interchange amongst the front four.
The subs of Tyler Wolff, Machop Chol, Franco Ibarra, and Luis Abram through the second half also provided a spark. The switch to a back three was essentially to see the match out, but it seemed to throw Colorado for a loop and it opened up pockets of space that they weren't able to fill. Atlanta took full advantage of the room they were given to drive down the pitch on Tyler Wolff’s goal, and then to open up Giakoumakis for his run in the 90th minute.
And finally...Giakoumakis. What a goal. The manner in which he pulled that ball from Brooks Lennon out of the sky was sublime, and the chip and no-nonsense finish was yet another moment of brilliance from a guy who simply hates not scoring.
The Five Stripes are back at it in Chicago at 8:30 on Saturday, and a win there could be a huge morale boost. Take a look below at what the team had to say after the match, and be sure to leave your own comments below!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the performance he expected from the team tonight and his opinions on the match:
“I have the luxury of getting to spend time with the players every day, and I know the response and the look in their eyes, how they take in messages, and how they look at each other and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, we can do that,’ so I was very confident because I know the team wants to be better. The team is a winning team, and I think tonight we showed that, but of course, we have to show this every game, and that will be the demand from now on, because now we cannot come back to not playing like this. We can win or lose, but that is not important. What is important is that we always show the same attitude, urgency, and intensity on every action, and I felt like today we did a very good job of that.”
On what it will be like when Derrick Etienne Jr. scores his first goal:
“I think he is very close, very close, and Derrick [Etienne Jr.] has done a great job of attacking that left side. I liked that he was a little bit more selfish in certain actions, he went for them, he went for one-on-ones, dribbled inside, dribbled outside, a couple shots, so I am not worried at all about Derrick. His goal is coming, and his assists are coming, but also, he is working hard on the other side of the ball too. When we need him to defend, he was defending very well on second balls, so I think it was a very good game for him. At this time, he couldn’t score or provide an assist, but I think he is in really good shape.”
On the impact Giorgos Giakoumakis has on the team:
“[Giorgos Giakoumakis] is a great guy in the locker-room. He is a leader. He is a guy that leads not with words, but with actions that show his intensity, his desire, and his hunger to score goals and help the team in any possible way. That is what I love about Giorgos. You saw the one play, Thiago [Almada] made a great run and ended up the field higher than Giorgos, so [Giorgos] sprinted back through the middle and just does whatever is needed to help the team win in any way he can, scoring goals, defending, pressing, or chasing. That is why the team is very confident when he is on the field. That being said about Giorgos, I feel like I have to say that Miguel [Berry] did a great job today. I think that [Miguel] played with the same type of intensity and urgency as [Giakoumakis], but at times we couldn’t find him in certain spots, but I think both of them did a great job today.”
On the performance of Luiz Araujo:
“I think Luiz [Araujo], we saw again today what he can provide to the team. I think he was close to scoring more goals, and I told you before there were a couple plays where he was unlucky in a couple of spots here and there, but in the first half he tried a lot. Last week, after the last game, we talked about his first 30 minutes here, and how they were probably the best 30 minutes I have seen from him in many games, so I explained that I need him for at least 60 minutes with the same intensity and actions so he doesn’t disappear in the games, can score his goals, get assists, and provide attacking actions by volume. He has to create 10 to 15 chances in the final third where he is aggressive, his first touches are forward, he goes at people, and he has that confidence and ability within himself, and I think that is what he did today. He did very good, and I loved that, but again, same as the urgency of the team, now he cannot come back to not giving us this type of performance.”
Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon:
On the lack of intensity in the last game in comparison to tonight’s
“I think we were very disappointed as a group; you know to lose at home, in front of our home fans against Charlotte. So, we brought the energy tonight and that’s what we need to do at home, every game.
On the confidence of the team after winning by a wide margin
“Obviously, the more goals, the better for the team and confidence for certain guys. But I think, first things first we kept a clean sheet. You start with that. As a defender myself, I am pretty proudful, proud of that moment. And we know our forwards, they have the talent; amazing talents! And we know we are going to score goals, so if we can keep clean sheets, we are going to be a dangerous team.
On how to duplicate this same performance
“Yeah, we just need to kind of build on this performance, and look back at the tape and understand what we did well, what worked for us. And tactics aside, I think we just brought the energy tonight. We were winning our tackles, winning second balls, and just so focused defensively; that’s what helped us keep a clean sheet.
Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff:
On his thoughts about the match and scoring his first regular season MLS goal:
“Awesome. Obviously, I have never scored [for the first team] before, so getting four tonight was good and it felt good to bounce back after some unfortunate results the last few weeks, so getting three points was huge for us, and now we have to go out on the road and hopefully bring home some more points.”
On how scoring can help his confidence moving forward:
“It will be big for me, but I just have to continue to grind, put my head down and keep working in training. Hopefully the opportunities will keep coming and I’ll be able to finish off the plays.”
On what the win does for the confidence of the team:
“It is definitely uplifting. You go through ups and downs during a season, and obviously, this isn’t the best moment that we are in right now, but hopefully this is a good point in the season for us to turn things around and get on a good run.”
On what was different from this match compared to others:
“I think, once again, as a group, missing a PK can cause you to put your heads down, but I think we stayed together and when the chances came, we were able to put them away, which causes a domino effect and it just kept going for us tonight.”
Atlanta United defender Ronald Hernández
On how he feels
“First thing is that I am happy. 3-points, 3-points. We needed to find a way to win. Play ugly, play beautiful, however we could. We needed to win, and we did it. Which is the most important.”
On how he believes that he performed on the left side
“For myself, I am very happy. To contribute, but the most important thing tonight are the 3-points. We have our confidence back.”
On how the team was able to gain back its energy
“I think that we played under pressure. When you play under pressure, it shows the character that we have. Everyone plays with commitment. The first thing tonight was, we put the team first and then afterwards, we will see what happens. It showed in the results.”
On how the team will continue to keep its energy up throughout the season
“I think communication with each other on the pitch. From the coach to personal stuff. We knew that we had a little bit of negative momentum, we gotta come back, bounce back tonight and we did.”
On Lennon’s comments that the team can be dangerous and how can it be
“The thing is that we have a lot of talent within the team. I think my personal opinion is that we have to be able to keep consistency. Be able to, when things don’t go well, don’t think that you are a bad team. When things go well, don’t think you are the best team. The season is very long so we have to keep going.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Quentin Westberg:
On how proud he is of the clean sheet
“It’s not just my clean sheet, you know. It is just the consequence obviously and (I’m) rarely going to be on the scoreboard. So, on the other hand, getting a clean sheet is just the conclusion of a great game effort. As much as a clean sheet is important, also scoring goals from back to front, you know. Participating in the buildup of a goal is also super satisfying. We talked about it not so long ago. Two days ago, the balance on the team is really important, because we want to be an overwhelming team. We want to be a team that has possession. We want to be a team that takes good care of the ball. And I think in many occasions tonight we did. We were able to hang tight, when it rocked a little bit. To be able to share this and all have a big impact in that win. To be able to share with the fans and bring some sort of show. It’s a great feeling, ya know. It is a very collective win from within the locker room and outside also. It is great for Atlanta United tonight.”
On how it feels to get the team win as a whole team
“It felt great, because as we said, the couple last losses were circumstantial over really the reflection on how well we played and how we wanted to play. Today it was almost we stuck together through this rough patch. In an environment where yes, as soccer players, as athletes you wonder a little bit. You are anxious to prove that you are on the right track, to validate this great playing style we have and these principles that we want to establish. We want to be an overwhelming team once more and teams take it personally. Not only do we have to face competitive teams, but we have to face teams that come into this building playing the game of the year. It’s like a cup final for them every game. And this is on the one hand us raising our standards, and on the other hand us maintaining a high level expectancy on our side to really perform.”