Lionel Messi is coming to MLS and - oh wait, sorry, it’s just still really strange to say and type. Let me run it back to Atlanta United vs LAFC.
A point on the road, especially a cross-country, reigning-MLS Cup opponent, is never a bad thing.
Brad Guzan having a heck of a comeback match after the tough one against New England last week is never a bad thing.
The team playing some very ugly football and posting it’s worst attack in years, along with the inability to play through pressure, is a bad thing.
Atlanta United held LAFC to an incredibly lucky 0-0 draw - one of only two MLS opponents to take points from them in their home stadium this year - but it never felt as if Atlanta had any semblance of control in the match. In fact, it was downright concerning how bad some of the touches and passes were. LAFC’s press was very well orchestrated and disciplined, and it caused Atlanta a host of troubles.
Gonzalo Pineda mentioned last week that he encourages and pushes his players to play bravely out of the back, and it makes sense...when it comes to fruition. It just seems like lately either the players aren’t getting it, or aren't capable, against opponents who are aggressive and press high. The midfield has so much trouble getting a lock on their area that it’s no wonder a team like LAFC, who will swarm an opponent with the ball, won eight interceptions in the first half alone.
Maybe the easy route is to play more direct, and it’s understandable to a degree why the team doesn’t do that as often - it isn’t what they’re trained to do, nor do they want to per their style of play. But to use an American football reference, sometimes you have to execute on the passing game to open up the run game, and vice versa. Let your big-bodied Spartan up top fight for the long ball occasionally, let your speedy wingers get on a ball near the corner flag and take that pressure off your midfield that is getting strung out in the worst way.
That doesn’t mean it has to be permanent, it just means you’re being pragmatic and adapting to the opponent based on what they’ve given you. LAFC was never going to be easy, but LAFC should never have been that hard, it’s just a miracle named Brad Guzan - and a good bit of Miles Robinson - that Atlanta stole the point.
Atlanta has D.C. United at home on Saturday, and the Benz provides a perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways. But the team has to stop being so one-dimensional (and maybe a couple of players in the summer who can execute Pineda’s plan better) to have any chance of going far in any of the remaining cup competitions.
Check out what Pineda, Brad Guzan, and Franco Ibarra had to say last night after the late, grungy tie.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On how he feels about the 0-0 draw
“A little bit different because I felt that last week we played very good and we didn’t get the points. I think today, especially the second half, we didn’t play our best football but we got one point so it was a bit positive. We were working very hard on defending and defending crosses, being under pressure and how we shut down the goal, and I thought that there were some tremendous performances defensively. Our back line was pretty good. Obviously, we want to play better, especially away, but happy with the mentality of keeping the clean sheet. A clean sheet always gives us a point. And it’s a tough opponent. It’s the champion, the team at the top of the West, the team that went to the final of CCL so we have to respect that and value this point because it was earned with good defending.”
On Brad Guzan’s performance
“As always, I think Brad is always very good. I understand at times there is criticism to goalkeepers because one mistake and they are killed but today was a great response by Brad. We know this is the level that he can give us and I’m just happy that he had that performance today.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On his performance
“I don’t know. These games, sometimes it comes off like this as a goalkeeper. Last week, I didn’t help the team and I had to bounce back and tonight I was able to make some saves, keep the clean sheet and help us get an important point on the road in a game where for sure in the second half we were second best. Our backs were against the wall, but to stay strong and stay tall, come up with some saves, was happy to play my part.”
On his eight saves and a match where he was kept busy
“To be honest, these are probably the easier of the games when it’s like this. There’s action happening every couple of minutes, whether you’re making a save or not making a save, you’re involved in the play. There are games when you don’t have to make a save until the 85th minute and your job as a goalkeeper is then to come up with the save to help your team win or get a result. Games like tonight are probably a little more stressful but they are probably somewhat fun in terms of all the action and fortunately I was able to come up with the goods.”
Atlanta United midfielder Franco Ibarra
On the team’s performance today
“I think we played a very complete game. In the first half we were able to play more and in the second it was a little obvious that they were going to come, they’re at home, they’re a great team. But we were able to keep a clean sheet and I think it’s a good result knowing that this weekend we have the next game at home.”
On Guzan’s performance
“We all know what Brad means for the team and the club. We have full confidence in all of our teammates and Brad is one of our pillars, one of our examples, so very happy for him because he deserved it.”
On what Lionel Messi’s signing means for him and his reaction
“It’s something very good for all of us, for the league, so that more people can watch this project in MLS that’s advancing. Surely more people will watch it, everyone will want to watch it so it’s something good for us all.”
On what it will be like to face Messi in MLS
“It’s something that one always dreams about. From my side, Messi is my idol so it’s very nice and if it happens, it will surely be one of the best feelings of my career.”