Atlanta United took the trip to
Walt Disney World Orlando Saturday and played the Lions to a 1-1 draw that felt like a win. A last-gasp but well-taken shot by Tyler Wolff kept his wonderful streak alive and gave the Five Stripes the energy they needed to quiet Orlando’s crowd.
The match certainly wasn’t anything to write home about; the first half was admittedly very tough to watch from an Atlanta perspective. There wasn’t a significant amount of intentional off-ball movement, the touches were rather sloppy, and Orlando just seemed like they wanted to win the game more than Atlanta. It culminated in a goal for the Lions as Ronald Hernandez got beat on the right side and the subsequent pass and shot pinged around inside the box for a while before it inevitably found the back of the net.
This lack of urgency, as Gonzalo Pineda called it in the post-match press conference, wasn’t only noticed by supporters, as both Pineda and Brad Guzan spoke to fixing the issue at the half.
The second half began with no changes, and Atlanta still had trouble playing through Orlando’s press. Brad Guzan had a miraculous save to keep the game 1-0, and then Giakoumakis went down with a harsh tackle (in which there probably should have been more significant punishment). He exited shortly thereafter, which Pineda clarified later was not because of the challenge but because he’s being extra, overly cautious with Giakoumakis’ match load as MLS hits this stretch of congestion plus the national team call-ups on the horizon.
Subs were then made, with Miguel Berry, Machop Chol, Ajani Fortune, and Tyler Wolff all making their entrance, and they brought the spark that was needed. Unfortunately, until they entered the match, Atlanta’s starting XI just didn’t look like they were up to the task. Whether it was frustration at constantly losing the ball, like Pineda mentioned, or something else entirely, something just seemed “off” about the group.
Miguel Berry and Machop Chol both had golden opportunities at goal but didn’t quite hit the target, and Miguel Berry also had a wonderful run late in the match through three defenders which also led to a chance. Ajani Fortune brought an energy to the midfield that was sorely missing up until that point. But it would be the aforementioned Tyler Wolff who was the deciding factor in Atlanta stealing the point from Orlando.
Quick shout to Matheus Rossetto for putting in the low screamer that made Pedro Gallese work to parry the ball away to the left side. Tyler Wolff mentioned in the press conference that he knew high and near post would be tough for goalkeepers so that’s where he was aiming, and though it took the slightest deflection, it didn’t seem to matter. The 20-year old sent in a well-placed ball and got the deserved goal.
Wolff also mentioned in his comments afterward that he was focused on coming in and bringing energy as a sub, and said he planned to do that by making plenty of off-ball runs and attacking Orlando’s tired right back. He pointed out that he understands it can be difficult at times as a homegrown to break through in teams like Atlanta United that have tons of outside talent, so he had been focusing on truly making the most of every minute that he receives.
Ultimately, it’ll be curious to see if those minutes expand greatly in the coming weeks as the team looks to keep a consistent starting lineup but make use of available impact subs - which Tyler Wolff has been.
It was a tough point, but Atlanta United heads home with it and now sits in 5th in the Eastern Conference with New England Revolution coming to town on Wednesday. A win against them would be huge to keep Atlanta sitting near the top, but the quick turnaround for guys like Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada - who seems to never stop playing - will be rather interesting.
Be sure to check out everything said by Pineda, Guzan, and Tyler Wolff below and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On his team’s intensity in tonight’s match
“I would say that we switched that word “intensity” to “urgency” a couple weeks ago and I felt that in the first half there was good effort, but it wasn’t enough. It felt a little bit like we were feeling sorry for ourselves, and we talked about that in the first half. Like oh we conceded a goal and we are all doom and gloom. No, I think the game after the initial wave, after the first 15 minutes, was kind of even. We started to get some chances in transition and a couple of possession situations. Then a couple of set pieces as well and we can start having some momentum. But it is as if we didn’t believe that we could have that equalizer in the first half. We talked about that at halftime. I felt that the reaction was positive after the first 10 minutes in the second half. We started to catch up and I felt that in the end of the game we were the better team for the last 20 to 25 minutes. So, I was happy with the reaction but what we discussed is that we have to start with that mentality from the beginning. That’s very obvious to me. Then, it was a big effort. It’s not easy to play in these conditions. So, a lot of positives, but not completely happy with tonight’s performance for sure.”
On the kind of spark that Tyler Wolff brings the team
“A big one. I was telling you all the other day that Tyler is a fantastic player. He’s a very complete player. At his age, he’s technical, he has some edge on him. He has some good physicality, so he can repeat actions at high intensity. But at times, what we were thinking is that he was missing the final product. That final pass, the final shot. In the last couple of weeks he’s now scored goals with the second team, down in Miami on a great first touch, then he scored in the last game with us a good goal where he was the only one following up on the ball. Now he gets his reward with this goal tonight which was a fantastic finish. I think he can bring intensity, relentless movement. He has some edge to come back and defend, put some tackles, then with his quality, he can impact the final third. He is someone that I believe is goal dangerous. He also has versatility to play in multiple positions which is very valuable.”
On if he can see Tyler Wolff in the mix for starting spot soon
“Maybe, that’s how players, especially young players, push for starting positions. He will for sure be in those conversations because I think it’s multiple weeks now where he has been good, not just in the games but in the training sessions. Of course he will be in those conversations.”
On the status of Giorgos Giakoumakis
“He’s ok, it was just more managing his load. We have to be careful with him, not just for now but for the future. He will likely go to the (Greek) National Team soon, so a long trip to Europe. We try to manage him, especially with the quick turnaround on Wednesday at home. After that tackle also sometimes you maybe compensate, and I was just worried about everything coming back from his injury. He is just progressing his minutes. We have to assess him, he’s also a new player for us so we need to learn how he responds to certain situations. I try to be cautious. Believe me, I don’t want to take Giakoumakis off the field very often, but I feel like for the long term success its better to keep him on the field every weekend, rather than losing him for a few weeks because I’m not taking care of his body. I know it’s frustrating for him, but I have to take that responsibility of taking care of him.”
On how to get more urgency earlier in matches
“It’s a constant thing we work on. Around MLS you see multiple teams dealing with similar things. It’s not an easy season. You play in multiple weather conditions, surfaces, timezones etc. A lot of games now on a quick turnaround. It’s not easy for me. I need some more consistent lineups, so once we have the full team back from injuries, suspensions I would like to repeat the lineups. That gives you that knowledge of little situations and how to best handle them. It’s not just the urgency, it’s also at times being good on the ball. I felt the lack of urgency tonight came out of the frustration of us giving up the ball often early on. There were situations where we make one pass in transition and then the second pass we lose the ball. Then you have to chase the ball for a couple minutes and then when you regain it, you lose it immediately. There is a reason sometimes for that frustration or lack of urgency. It shouldn’t happen, but we know football is like that. We have to do better in that part of the game. I feel like we need that cohesion that you can get from consistent lineups. Once we are cohesive with the ball we know what we can produce. We can score in every game and it’s a matter of believing in that.
Atlanta United Goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On how he feels after playing
“I’m feeling great. Knee is good, Achilles is good. I have to give a big shoutout to our medical team. They do a fantastic job with us. I think they get a lot of stick, especially throughout the years with some of the freak injuries we have had. But they care tremendously about us as players, as individuals. They want nothing more than to get us back on the field and they were fantastic with me. So I want to give a big shoutout to everyone in our medical room.”
On if he is surprised at how quickly he came back (7 weeks after an original diagnosis of 10-12 weeks)
“No, listen. I don’t go off these timeframes. I’ll be honest with you, I told our doctors that I’m not hanging around for 10 weeks. It’s not going to be 10 weeks, it will be earlier than that. I’m probably one of the most annoying patients when I’m in that medical room. I joke and give them a hard time but that’s not for me. I don’t want to be in the medical room, I want to be on the field. When they tell me to do something, I do that plus a little more. I’m always pushing the boundaries. Not in a crazy way, but in a way that I know my body can do it. They are always on board with me and we are always doing things in a collaborative way. There is a togetherness in terms of return to play and all those slogans people use with injured players coming back. Yes, they said 10-12 weeks but for me I was looking more at around four weeks, so I was a bit behind but I’m happy to be back now.”
On how the defense played tonight
“The first half I thought we struggled to get a grip on the game. We weren’t great on the ball, we weren’t great with finding the second and third pass. Orlando did a good job with their press, they did a good job of putting us under pressure and we couldn’t play out of it. We couldn’t get the ball to stick with our front players. It felt like we were always under it. Sometimes that happens. You have to find a way to get to halftime and adjust. We regrouped at the break and the second half was a bit better. I kept telling the guys in the back that we need to keep it at 1-0 and we will get some chances. We have to believe in our guys and we have the guys that can put the ball in the back of the net. Tonight, Tyler (Wolff) stepped up and did just that. You look at that, then Machop Chol had a chance just over the bar. Miguel Berry had a chance just wide of the post. We had some decent chances to score another goal. In these games, especially on the road, a point on the road can mean the difference in the standings come the end of the year. It wasn’t great, and we know that, but we will take this point on the road and turn around quickly for Wednesday’s match.”
Tyler Wolff just happy, spoke about making the most of the opportunities given and said that his objective when coming onto the pitch was to bring energy by making off ball runs, and targeting Orlando’s right back. Said he’s trying to take advantage of his given chances 1/2 pic.twitter.com/JBtTh2FJhI— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) May 28, 2023