First, the amount of pettiness from Atlanta United’s social media after this win against Philadelphia Union has been on point. The team did not shy away from Jim Curtin’s comments to The Athletic earlier in the season - if you were unaware of what he said, here’s a quick reminder.
Oh, and the party was a good one, too. It had to be after the 4-0 loss the Five Stripes suffered a week ago, and Philly was definitely set to be a tougher match. However, a slight formational shift, some player rotations, and plenty of film review led to a solid performance by Atlanta United as they sent Philly back home (presumably with their licenses) after winning 2-0.
Pettiness aside, this match may have been one of the overall best wins of the season. Full respect to Philly because they’re a great squad and have been on a run as of late, but Gonzalo Pineda pulled all the right strings in preparation for what was a vital three points.
The switch to the back five not only stymied the leakiness of the prior backline, but on paper it’s also the counter to a midfield diamond like Philly has used for years...when executed properly.
And Atlanta executed it very well. Ronald Hernandez slotted in as the third center back alongside Purata and Abram, with Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley providing the width. Sejdic, Ibarra, and Almada handled the midfield, with Machop Chol and Giakoumakis as the forward threats.
The passing was crisp and clean, the receptions were intentional and with purpose, and the cohesiveness of the team was as close as it’s been all season. Philly surprisingly didn’t press as high from the opening whistle, instead, they set back and allowed the ball into the midfield before trying to smother it with a numerical advantage. Atlanta did well to create enough space on either wing to draw in Philly’s diamond before typically switching the play back to the opposite wing. Whoever occupied that wing for Atlanta was guaranteed to have acres of ground in front of them, and it then allowed the forwards to crash the box.
This space was exploited early. Giakoumakis was brought down at the top of the penalty box, which was initially called as a PK. After a VAR review, though, the contact was proven to be just outside the line - and right in Almada territory.
There's no stopping t̶h̶a̶t̶ HIM pic.twitter.com/W1qJFM8Uv0— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 2, 2023
And another angle, for your viewing pleasure.
That strike set the tone for the match, and Atlanta continued to create half-chances throughout the first 45 minutes. Unfortunately, Giorgos Giakoumakis fell victim to some type of non-contact injury around 30 minutes in, which later turned out to be his hamstring. Pineda would later say the trainers were trying to get a scan done Sunday evening, but if not, the scan would be done Monday, so look for that prognosis around midweek.
The second half saw much of the same, and Philadelphia never looked incredibly goal dangerous. The defense held their dual strikers close and never allowed any solid shots, holding the Union to only one on target. Atlanta continued to create opportunities, and it would be a beautiful team effort that saw the Five Stripes double their lead as Brooks Lennon five-holed Joe Bendik.
Brooks Lennon joins in on the party pic.twitter.com/uySW2nzioN— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 2, 2023
Atlanta United would proceed to lock down the defense, something which hasn’t been said often this season, and see out an important win. Even then, a handful of other chances were created in the closing minutes that could’ve seen the score improve to 3-0.
Regardless, the Five Stripes closing this one out with a clean sheet and two goals over one of the best teams in the league is superb, and it gives them some breathing room away from the playoff line. Next up is Montreal, who has one of the better home records in MLS, so Atlanta will have a tough task next weekend to continue their climb up the table.
See what Gonzalo Pineda, Caleb Wiley, Brooks Lennon, Thiago Almada, and Miguel Berry had to say below, and be sure to leave your comments!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda
On Giorgos Giakoumakis injury and success of formation change:
“First question is an easy one, I don’t know (on Giakoumakis injury). We have to see to know. On the second question, well different reasons. At times we have to keep the same game model, the same way of playing. But obviously we have to adjust at times. We have been conceding many of goals this year and I felt that just having an extra number there and without sacrificing the buildup and the way we play, and play from the back, how we can do that to be a bit more solid. And I think it worked. I think of course there are moments where we were stretched and things like that, but I know allowing against this team only one shot on target is a massive accomplishment for me. Last year we did the same and even better with no shots on goal but today was very good. I think on the ball we were also very good today. We understood the moments of the game. I think it was a great adjustment by the players and the way they played the game plan was very good.”
On how long the team has been working on the formation change:
“I have to come back to 2021. 2021 was a back five, George Bello, Anton Walkes, Miles Robinson, Alan Franco, and Brooks Lennon. That was the back five. Santi Sosa with Matheus Rossetto mostly then Marcelino [Moreno] or [Ezequiel] Barco then Josef [Martinez] and Luiz [Araújo]. That was very similar to what we did today with different players. This year at the beginning, preseason, in that out of the back four we were tweaking at times to a back three with Andrew Gutman as a center back. So, I think the game model doesn’t change. So then making these little tweaks is easier when we’re playing the same style and it’s just a little adjustment. But I think the credit is always to the players because we can have the master plan here but if they don’t have the determination, the commitment, the hard work, the intelligence to play the game model and adjust at times things we didn’t review in the film or in the training session and they do a better, they understand the situation and play the right pass or do the right wrong, or if just the decision making is good. I think all on the players. So, it was a great performance. I just told them that individually and collectively. It was fantastic. I cannot think of one player that didn’t have an outstanding game. I think everyone had an outstanding game and that’s what we need, that’s the standard.”
On how to carry the momentum to the next match:
“Let me enjoy this one. This was a good match. And Philadelphia is a great, great team. It’s a fantastic team, competitive team. They play their own style. It’s not like they just play long balls and watch for second balls. They have an intention. They have a pattern. They have a form to be successful with their style and they have purpose in the way they play. And they’re all buying in to the idea so beating this team means a lot to me because they are a great team.”
On if this is the most satisfied coach has been with the team after the win:
“I’m very happy yes. The tactical game plan that the coaches came up with I think was very good. The ideas of my coaching staff were very good, very well applied, very good training sessions, all that. But again, for me, its about the players because its not easy coming back from a 4-0 and a very poor performance and kind of a tough week. How we respond to that and the way they respond is what tells me that the players are fully committed. Now the challenge is to maintain that game after game. Try to maintain that standard.”
Atlanta United FC defender Brooks Lennon
On today’s match:
“I think when you lose 4-0 on the road, you aren’t happy, so it was a massive result for us against a very, very good Philadelphia [Union] team at home in front of our home fans, and we put a great performance together.”
On his continued development as a player:
“My main goal is to be with the [United States men’s] National Team, and I am not there, so what do I have to do to get there? Improve in all areas of my game so that they give me an opportunity and a chance. I am working every single day, both on and off the field, trying to improve myself by watching film and going over my weaknesses to try to improve those so that I can be in that squad.”
On his communication with the US Men’s National Team:
“I haven’t heard anything from them as of right now. Obviously, very disappointed to not make the Gold Cup roster, but what can I do? I have to focus on myself now and do as well as I can at Atlanta United, keep my head down, keep working hard every single day to improve, and try to be the best all-around player that I can be so that Gregg [Berhalter] and his staff give me an opportunity.”
On the team’s performance:
“I was really impressed with everybody’s performance tonight. Playing in a back-5, that is a new formation for us, and you saw that we kept a clean sheet, which is the most important part for a defender. I was really happy with how we played, took care of the ball in certain areas of the field, and we didn’t have any stupid giveaways in our own final third to give [Philadelphia] opportunities, so I am proud of our performance, and we have to keep building from here.”
Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada
On if he’s happy with the team’s victory
“Yes, very happy. A deserved victory today.”
On how the team responded after last match and the performance in a 2-0 win today
“Well. I think today in MLS anyone can beat anyone. A result like that can happen but we’re strong and we trained a lot this week. We wanted this victory and luckily it came and we have to stay on this path.”
On what he felt on the free kick and the ability put the rebound in the top corner
“Yes, my idea was to hit it above the wall to the goalkeeper’s post, because the wall was very high and the players were very close. But the rebound fell right to me and I was able to strike it well and luckily it was a goal.”
On if he’s happy with his performance, a goal and an assist
“Yes, very happy. The most important thing is we were able to win, and at home with our fans, that’s the most important. Then I try to give my best to the team.”
On Gonzalo Pineda’s comments during the week that the team was trying to find Thiago in better positions and did the team do that today
“Yes, I think the team is always trying to get me the ball to be able to go forward and create goal scoring chances but lately it hadn’t been going well and I didn’t have good performances but today it went well and we showed what we are.”
On transfer windows opening and if he or his agent have heard anything from other clubs
“No, I haven’t spoken to my agent. I’m focused with my mind on Atlanta. If any offer comes, I’ll think about it and make a decision but right now I’m calm here and with my mind on the club.”
Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley
On his feeling after today’s win
“It’s a great feeling as always to get three points, especially against Philly. I think that was the first time we beat them since 2018, so to do it in front of our amazing fans at home is even better. But you know it’s a step in the right direction and hopefully it’s a boost confidence going into the next game.”
On any preparation ahead of playing Philadelphia
“Yeah, I mean coming into the game, in the videos that we watched preparing for Philly, we were told that they are going to be aggressive, and that we have to match their intensity. We can’t let a team come into our home and boss us around, so we have to stay on the same level, if not, be better.”
On any extra pressure after the loss to New York Red Bulls
“When we were doing video on Philly, they said that Philly was similar team to Red Bulls in terms of intensity and aggressiveness. The like to press, they can play quick, very aggressive. But this time we just had to be better.”
On his relationship on the field with Thiago Almada
“I don’t know, our chemistry is just really there. I talked about it a lot of times, but he is an amazing player. He knows what I like, the runs-in behind, he knows my speed, he plays a little deeper for me to run onto. But he is just an overall great player and I am enjoying playing with him.”
Atlanta United forward Miguel Berry
On what was right tonight with the team that maybe wasn’t right other nights
“I think as a team we played very well. Our two goals were juxtapositions. They were very different obviously, we had Thiago’s magic on the free kick off the wall with a volley and the second one they almost didn’t even touch the ball. It was a great team goal and I think we are such a good team we can do that and have both, but we also focused for 90 minutes, they had like one shot maybe. If you put together a game like that you’re more likely than not going to win. So just be focused and defend the goal for 90+ minutes, which is not easy to do and you’re almost never going to do it, just try to escape to those moments. I think we did a great job tonight. Everyone that came in, Caleb Wiley coming back, Amar coming back, everyone who came in did a great job.”