Atlanta United returned home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday night and found the win column once more with a solid 3-1 win over Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United. With an international break looming, it was exactly what the Five Stripes needed to evaluate how their attack will function going forward as Luiz Araujo prepares to depart for Brazil.
The early story line of the day consisted of Matheus Rossetto being left out of the team sheet as a “coaches’ decision,” and he was replaced by Jay Fortune. Fortune made his first MLS start, and it was later revealed that Rossetto had serious fatigue and muscle tightness after the LAFC match and wasn’t going to be starting against D.C. anyway. This also meant that Ozzie Alonso, who hasn’t played MLS minutes since early 2022 due to an ACL injury, made his return in front of a rowdy 42500+ crowd.
The match itself was fairly simple to sum up: Atlanta started off well, short of a moment of defensive shakiness, and Miles Robinson dropped a long dime to Giorgos Giakoumakis who found D.C.’s Tyler Miller waaaaay off his line. Giakoumakis was able to control the ball past Miller and made an insanely tight-angled shot into an open goal look way easier than it was, and the Five Stripes were up 1-0 under 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, the team then had a spell of mental mistakes and lack of clarity resulting in turnovers in very inopportune areas. One such giveaway happened around midfield while D.C. had a handful of attackers making the run against Brad Guzan. The subsequent finish was relatively simple, and Atlanta spent the rest of the first half looking a bit frantic.
Clearly though, whatever was said in the locker room at the half was effective, and Atlanta returned to the pitch prepared to battle. Only moments into the second 45, Andrew Gutman found himself on the end of a beautifully weighted Thiago Almada through-ball and fired an on-target shot at Tyler Miller. Miller got a foot on it, but just enough to tip it further into the back of the net.
Almada ➡️ Gutman = AUTOMATIC ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/ZX4uVqq77k— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 11, 2023
Atlanta continued to keep their foot on the gas and a handful of subs were made. One such substitute was Tyler Wolff for Derrick Etienne, and the team was ultimately rewarded with the third goal by the Wolff-man himself. Again, it was Andrew Gutman who got involved with the run (which was initially ruled offside but was reversed after a check) from a great ball by Giakoumakis. Gutman sent almost the same shot as before across the goal and Tyler Wolff was there to poke it home for his third MLS goal.
Overall, the performance was solid by Atlanta United. Jay Fortune had a great showing, and though he was involved in a couple of minor mistakes, he brought a forward facing energy to the central midfield position and performed well. Ozzie Alonso’s return was also a moment of celebration, and it was beautiful to watch the guy step onto the pitch to the roar of the Benz and begin directing his guys around as if he’d never left.
There were still some nail biting moments at the end, and surely the video review of this match and the LAFC match will reveal a significant amount of correctable actions. At times, Atlanta’s desire to play from the back creates some hairy moments, but overall they found a rhythm, adjusted to D.C.’s high line, and played a few more direct long balls to keep them honest. One (slightly) worrying trend has been Almada’s tendency of late to keep the ball a step too long in certain moments instead of making the simple pass when needed, and it’s directly what caused the turnover and D.C.’s lone goal. However, no one is denying is the guy’s talent, and he continues to be effective in the attack and make defenders look foolish on the regular.
The team and coaching staff have plenty of time now to evaluate and fine tune all aspects of their plan going forward as a handful of players head off to international duty. Pineda mentioned the use of traditional wingers over what was being used with a guy like Luiz Araujo, and how having Giakoumakis up top may change how he approaches using his wingers. Giakoumakis himself even spoke about having the natural footed guys on his flanks - Wiley on the left and Etienne on the right - and how that can benefit as he makes his crashing runs into the box.
Take a look below at everything Pineda, Jay Fortune, Franco Ibarra, and Giakoumakis had to say post match, and be sure to leave your comments below!
Lmfaooooooo media talking to Ajani and Machop, Etienne, and Diop snuck in pic.twitter.com/aVU5S4RTjw— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) June 11, 2023
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On how pleasing of a performance offensively:
“I would say yes of course. There was a moment in the first half that were we were not sharp, and we started to lose control of the ball. Overall, I think we’re the team that was trying to create the spaces to overload the opponent. And I’m very happy because this is a very good team (D.C. United). I don’t know where they are in the standings at this moment and all that, but I think Wayne Rooney is doing a great job with a very solid team. The defenders are very tough to beat; they have speed on the flanks; they have someone who can take you there is very difficult to mark and then the people around always finding the pockets to get a second ball. So, from their different ways and also, it is not easy to play these types of teams. Today we showed a very good performance in my opinion.”
On starting Wiley on the left and Etienne on the right:
“Maybe having someone like Giorgios, it makes sense maybe because they’re natural wingers and, not completely work because I can’t say the crosses to Giorgios were there completely as I expected. But I feel like we are a bit more direct in the type of roles that we get. Inverted wingers are always good when you have someone like Luiz (Araujo) that can take the ball on the left and then dribble inside someone like Brooks (Lennon) can overlap and create different challenges for the opponent. But I think having natural wingers adds another dimension over the over where we can create a space for players into pockets because of how many runs we make in behind from that position on the flank. So tactically that changes a bit. We have to see and reflect what is the best thing for the team…We have to be adaptive to Giokoumakis because in the past, it been everything on the ground and having someone like Giokoumakis that is so dominant in the aerial duels, and is always in good positions to attack, maybe we have to reflect on different ways to attack in final third.”
On Jay Fortune’s full debut:
“Fantastic. Someone that has been progressing very well. Someone that we have a lot of faith in. I think is one that can play six, can play eight, and an ability in the pocket. He has that final product too. But also, can play double pivot. But today we were fluctuating between eight, 10, six, double pivot. Trying to create different challenges for the opponents especially when you play double pivot where that puts Thiago (Almada) beneath Giokoumakis and then at times opponents are having trouble finding Thiago. He showed very good action offensively and defensively so looking forward to his progression in the season.”
On Franco Ibarra’s progression:
“I think it’s going well. I think he is a six that is very physical and can win the duels. I was very pleased on him not getting the eighth yellow so we can keep him for one more game. If we are compact, we are giving Ibarra more chances to win these duels because in small distances, he is one of the best in putting pressure on opponents and close down to regain balls. When we are compact, I think he is one of the best. What I’m also pleased with him is his ability to progress that ball. I have to take a look at the stats, but I think this is one of the best that you know receiving in the pocket and try to activate forward, inside, not just outside or in behind. So, he has been progressing very well.”
Atlanta United Midfielder Jay Fortune:
On his performance and first MLS start
“Hopefully it was good. The feedback has been good so far, and obviously, with the staff that we have and the people around me, we will all go back and look at it and always look for areas to improve and try to get better day-in and day-out. But for my first start with this great team and the great people around me, I think it was good.”
On some of the feedback he received following the match:
“There hasn’t been too much yet because we didn’t want to get into it much yet, just celebrate the win before the time off, but most of it has been ‘Well done today,’ and stuff like that. I’m sure when we get back in though, that’s when we will really dive into it.”
On being versatile and able to play multiple roles:
“I think at different times I was asked to do different things during the game, and I think the biggest thing for me is being able to execute what Coach [Gonzalo Pineda] asks of me, and I think I was able to do that a couple times tonight. Hopefully, going forward, I will be able to do it again.”
On what he wants to improve before his next start:
“Hopefully, whenever my next start comes, I want to be more aware of my positioning and the people around me, as well as being quicker on the ball, which makes it a lot harder to lose [possession]. Also, obviously, another win would be great.”
On what it feels like to get a win and break the draw streak the team had been on:
“This group deserved to win, for sure. We have played really well the last few games, and to walk away with some ties, some losses late in games even, is unfair to the way we have been playing, but I think a win tonight before the break is huge. We can go away, get our mind off of it for a bit, come back in ready to work, and hopefully, we can get a win streak going and build off of it.”
Atlanta United midfielder Franco Ibarra
On if he feels like he’s in his best form since joining the club
“I think so. Of the three years that I’ve been here, this is the best that I’ve been performing and I needed this as Atlanta put a lot of confidence in me and little by little I’m trying to return it on the field.”
On his comfort level on the field right now
“I feel very comfortable. As we spoke about before, this is where I love to play, where my work comes off the best, which we know is recovering balls, putting energy onto the field and on that side of the field is where I feel like I can do that in the best way.”
On how he has improved since joining Atlanta
“You learn from players at your side, from what you see. You also grow. Being a young player, maybe there are a lot of things that you still need to learn but as I said, it’s also about confidence, we need confidence and it’s a little about that.”
Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis:
On the success he is having within the club
“First of all I didn’t think about any records or anything else. The only thing that I am really thinking about every single week is to score and help my team. By scoring every week, then you’re chasing some miracles, some good achievements. To be honest, I am really happy! I am looking forward to more success, and more achievements in the future.”
On if he was surprised regarding the DC goalie’s play on his first goal
“No. We knew that when we tried to play behind the back of the defense, then the goalkeeper would go out. Within the game, we scored because we were well prepared about this. The manager explained everything about the goalkeeper and how he would come out. Eventually that worked, we scored because he tried to go out and he missed the ball. It wasn’t luck, we were prepared”
On if having natural wingers changes his play
“No, I don’t think so. Every single winger has some advantages and strong characteristics. Today we played with Etienne Jr. on the right and he can beat players 1-v-1 and cross with his right foot. I knew that first time he would cross. We were close to having a good combination in first half. On the other side I’m happy Caleb is back and he’s an important player for us. You can see how he is for the club and our system.”
Also, as usual, be sure to check out our post-match show as everyone dives into their opinions on the match and the team as a whole.