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Nick Firmino: The goal was the cherry on top

The team’s depth stepped up and made a difference Wednesday night

SOCCER: JUN 21 MLS - Atlanta United FC vs New York City FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hungry. That’s the word the Scarves and Spikes podcast has been using to describe some of the younger, “depth” players being integrated into more and more time over the past couple of months with Atlanta United. The likes of Tyler Wolff, Machop Chol, and Jay Fortune have made it a point to bring energy - and fundamental soccer - every moment they step on the pitch. Are they playing perfect soccer? No, they have some rawness, which is to be expected, but they just really seem to want it and that speaks volumes.

A few other names can now be added to that list: Nick Firmino, Noah Cobb, and Luke Brennan. And no, we can’t forget the trailblazer over the past year, Caleb Wiley. Noah Cobb stepped back into the first team fold in an MLS match since the disaster in Columbus (which definitely wasn’t on him) and played a solid match in Atlanta United’s 2-2 draw vs New York City FC on Wednesday night.

Luke Brennan and Nick Firmino were subbed on late in an attempt to play an all-out attack to scrounge a point leading into stoppage time while the Five Stripes were down 2-1. Brennan didn’t see much of the ball, but if you watch his movements, he did well to keep the game stretched wide to allow the others to work the midfield and right side. Firmino entered the match and immediately made a difference in the midfield, including an enticing ball forward on his first touch, and a crucial tackle just seconds later to stop a half-break.

The hunger they brought, coupled with Tyler Wolff’s first half goal and the subs for Machop Chol and Ozzie Alonso, made for a wild closing 20 minutes. It would be Firmino who found the equalizer off a beautifully patient Machop Chol through ball that Brooks Lennon exquisitely chipped back to the middle of the box - and a waiting Firmino. He headed it down and past NYCFC’s keeper and defenders to draw the match late.

All things considered, it’s not a bad result. It’s not what anyone necessarily wants at home, but it’s a far cry better than the last time the team had so many starters out on international duty. The energy and hunger stepped up big, and the story remains that if the team can mop up the defensive mishaps and sloppiness that they so often get punished on, they’d be on another realm entirely.

Go check out what Pineda and a ton of players had to say post-match, and be sure to leave your comments below!

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:

On the decision to sign Luke Brennan and Nick Firmino to short term agreements and what coach told them when they came into the game:

“Well number one I think they deserve it. They have good performances with the second team. We keep track of that, and coaches are paying attention to what they do there. We are in constant communication with their coaching staff of the second team and then they deserve it. That’s number one. Number two, we need them. And then number three, yesterday I told them that’s why I called them up because they deserved it, and they performed very well. We’ve been watching live a few games at home and I think they’re up to the standard. But then I asked them, Luke Brennan came on the left due to some tactics that New York City was doing very well. We were forced to change to a back three in the last 20-25 minutes. And I put Luke Brennan as almost a left wing back and then Nick Firmino as almost a double ten with Chop. And then beneath them was Ozzie with Rossetto to try and overload the middle and then trying to have some players outside and numbers inside the box. That was the idea. They did very well. I think Luke didn’t touch the ball that much. Probably we’re (Atlanta) playing on the right side and at times, when much of what’s going on the right side with Brooks, we were dangerous, but I think Luke has a lot of potential to play there.”

On if Nick Firmino and other homegrown players did enough to earn more than a short-term agreement and more playing time once the roster gets back to full strength:

“We’ll see. That’s something for Carlos (Bocanegra) again. That’s a signing and signings are for Carlos. Of course, we have those discussions, and we will talk about that for sure the next few days but at least we have them for the next game and we will see how everyone is recovering with the three guys that are coming back from internationals. We’ll see how we can make the next roster against the Red Bulls.”

On explaining the decision to take out Tyler Wolff and bring in Ozzie Alonso:

“The reason was Tyler was cramping. Same as Caleb (Wiley). You know, I didn’t think that we need energy, we should have players that were doing very good, both of them. Both were cramping on the field and I think that puts them at risk and doesn’t give us the best chance to succeed.”

On evidence of progress that the team has made since facing a similar situation earlier in the year vs. Columbus:

“Well, three points would have been big progress. We were aiming for that. I actually think that we should have won this game aside of the tactics that I already congratulated the coaching staff for New York City. They were very good. They were putting us under pressure when they were overloading the middle with no nine. Almost as a false 9. And then our center backs didn’t have anyone to mark, and it was difficult to adjust. Especially when you have a young roster you don’t want to move too much. But I just told the players I liked the competitive side. I liked that we never give up and never giving up is a signature of a championship team. And I like that that even though we were a young team, maybe inexperienced, six homegrowns which is a mark for Atlanta United. We never played before six homegrowns in the past. Many positives on that but the mentality and the resilience, I told you guys that what we learned is that this time we were ready to compete and I think we did that. Maybe it wasn’t good as at times we didn’t look as good as cohesive which maybe is normal, but we were fighting, we were competing till the end we were pushing for 3 points. I like that, stats aside. 12 shots for us, three for them. We couldn’t manufacture more chances, but I still think kudos to the kids for the fight. I really liked what I saw.”

Atlanta United midfielder Nick Firmino

On how he would describe his goal:

“Special moment, you know. To make my debut here at home, especially, and to score the goal was the cherry on top.”

On if this is how he imagined his MLS debut to be:

“It’s better than I imagined, really. To come on for about 10 minutes, and then to score the game-tying goal as well. I’m very happy with the result.”

On how he described his last 24-hours of signing his contract:

“Everything happened kind of fast. I was ready for my opportunity and this is what I have been waiting to do and I was happy that I was able to go out and do it.”

On what he was feeling when he scored

“I was just celebrating really. Nothing else going through my head. After that we obviously tried to get another goal, but unfortunately we couldn’t. I am happy with the draw.”

Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff

On rescuing a point tonight:

“We’ve given up some late goals throughout the season and we’ve kind of turned it around on that, but to get some late ones ourselves, rescue some points, it felt good.”

On what the point says about the team because so many players were out tonight:

“For the young guys in the group and the team overall I think it’s important we can do this without our big guys. We can continue to grind, learn and develop. It’s important to keep doing that.”

On how awesome it was to have six Homegrowns playing tonight:

“It shows that Atlanta, the system, that we can produce guys and compete in this league. I’m just proud of the guys. It’s good to see and it’s good for the league to have that.”

On how the organization allows young players to be successful:

“It’s huge. It shows what the club is about and what they want to push. It shows that they can compete out here. It’s good to see.”

Atlanta United defender Noah Cobb

On the differences between tonight’s match and the match at Columbus in March:

“I think it was just overall the team’s mentality. I think in the previous game [at Columbus], we conceded and then our heads kind of dropped, but today we conceded, and we just kept going. So, I think we learned from that and now we are here.”

On messaging from teammates like Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson in training:

“Just to be confident in myself. I train with them every day, but it is about doing it all on matchday, so it is just about believing in myself and believing that everyone around me has my back and having everyone else’s back as well.”

On his performance overall tonight:

“I felt good. I think it went better than the last one [at Columbus], much better, but I was proud of the guys and proud of how resilient we were. We went down one, then we came back, then we went down 2-1, and then we came back again, so I just think that really speaks to the mentality of the team.”

On if he is adjusting more to the speed of the game:

“Yeah, I do. I think the speed is definitely faster, and the opponents are tactically set up in a way that is much harder to defend than with [Atlanta United 2], but as I’m getting more minutes, I am getting more used to it, and it is becoming easier for me to picture things on the field.”

Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon

On younger guys making a contribution tonight

“Yeah, it’s really important. I’m happy for the guys that were able to play tonight and make their debuts, including Firmino scoring a great goal. It shows that the organization has a great academy system that grooms homegrowns to be able to make it to the first team; you want to see that. Especially in Europe you see clubs like Liverpool and guys like Trent Alexander Arnold coming all the way through the academy to the first team. And you want to see that at Atlanta United, so it was special tonight to see all those young guys get an opportunity, and obviously Tyler Wolf scored another goal, so I am very happy for him. So yeah, we just got to keep moving forward, and those guys got to keep their heads down and keep working hard.“

On evidence of the progress the team made after playing Columbus

“Definitely yeah. The amount of homegrowns and youngsters that we had out on the pitch tonight shows the growth of this team and Gonzalo said it to us before the game, our training this week was one of the best we’ve had all season. With the youngsters and the mentality, you know it was very competitive this past week. I’m happy for all those youngsters. It was good to come out with a tie at the end but a little disappointed we weren’t able to get all three [points].”

On younger players being hungry

“Yeah, that’s how you get your opportunity. You know, as a young guy you want to come and show the coach that you’re ready, especially when guys are away on International Duty. That’s why training had such a high intensity this past week and we want to keep it at that cause it’s really good to see you and it makes everyone better.”

On his belief for more cohesiveness on the team tonight

“I think we’ve grown and developed through the season. Guys have gotten much more playing time. You know, it’s difficult games you’ve seen Tyler Wollf came in and scored a goal tonight, but he’s had a good stretch of games, and I don’t think when we played Columbus earlier this season, I don’t think we had the youngsters had that kind of playing time under their belt yet. So, it’s good to see guys maturing and getting better and better. They just need to keep working hard, stay humble and hopefully they can be successful for us.”