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Gonzalo Pineda: Very disappointed with this one

The tough stretch continues into a long break with plenty of time to evaluate

MLS: Leagues Cup-Cruz Azul at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a cruel beast of a sport, and Saturday evening in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was one of the strangest, oddball versions of that beast that Atlanta United fans have witnessed in quite some time.

The stage was set for a hectic, chaotic match as the Five Stripes welcomed Liga MX side Cruz Azul in what equated to a knockout match. Both teams had fallen victim to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami, so a win for either side would see that team through to the true knockout rounds. The pressure was on each coach, too; Cruz Azul’s manager had been given an alleged ultimatum of “win or you’re gone” while Gonzalo Pineda has struggled to win consistently since May.

Cruz Azul fans showed up in force - bringing along pyrotechnics, green lasers and a random Easter Bunny - and the Benz resounded all night with the back and forth chants of “ATLANTA” and “AZUL.”

Atlanta United showed a solid effort early on, being fairly aggressive and leaning into the use of their new midfielder, Tristan Muyumba. Muyumba was a welcome spark in the midfield, providing wonderful vision, crisp passes, and sprinkle of fun and effective flair to break the monotony of Atlanta’s center-pitch woes. His movement off the ball was intentional, he provided some good defensive moments, and played well into the box with guys like Almada, Mosquera, and Giakoumakis. As the game-state progressed and he needed to be more defensive and side-to-side, he did so willingly and proficiently. It was overall a great first outing for the Frenchman.

Ultimately, though, it would be a defensive lapse by a combo of Ronald Hernandez and Miles Robinson where Hernandez left his mark open in the box to win a header he stated he thought he could win. The resulting ball fell to the unmarked Cruz Azul man in the box who drilled it at Brad Guzan for the opening goal of the night.

Atlanta didn’t let off though, and in the second half they notched up the pressure a bit. It would be a combination of Edwin Mosquera bringing some unrefined but welcome speed and unpredictability on the right side to dribble into the box, where he had the ball poked away - and out to Thiago Almada. Almada was able to catch the ball at an odd angle and narrowly beat the keeper at his near post while his own player blocked the keeper’s vision.

Unfortunately, Atlanta couldn’t find the go-ahead goal and the match ultimately would be decided by penalties.

It started well enough. Brooks Lennon buried his first, and Cruz Azul banged theirs off the crossbar. It went back and forth until Miguel Berry stepped up and had his shot blocked to even the count. During this time, Brad Guzan also was pelted with green lasers as he prepared to block shots. The shootout would ultimately go to sudden death, and Juanjo Purata unfortunately missed his target, and Cruz Azul buried their attempt to win it by one in PK’s.

The post-match press conference was definitely a downer. Gonzalo Pineda was rightfully upset and dejected, perhaps a bit more than normal, as his side was knocked out of another competition in the earliest stages. A couple of transfers, a week of rest, plus two full weeks of work now await Atlanta United as they fully prepare for their last 10 matches of MLS play.

Take a look at what Pineda, Brad Guzan, and Amar Sedic had to say after the match, and be sure to leave your own comments below!

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda

On the number one thing the team needed to improve on from last game vs. Inter Miami and if he feels the team did well enough

“I would say yes. Just the final execution in the attacking half. We were not as clinical but I think we did a good game.”

On how disappointing it is to be eliminated from two tournaments now this year and his assessment of the team

“Very disappointed with this one. I think we deserve better but this is football. I saw a big improvement in the team. I think we did a good job in many different phases of the game. Football is like this and we couldn’t succeed on this one. We will of course be reflecting and trying to assess our performance overall and try to be better. That’s always the goal. There are 10 games left in the season. August 20, Seattle Sounders away. It’s a big task for the team. So we have three weeks to prepare for that and go for those three points or try to get as many as possible.”

On the Cruz Azul goal and breakdown of the little moments in the match and corrections going forward

“I think it was a mistake. I think we were doing a good job on solving those long switches of play. Switching over appropriately. We tried to be more aggressive especially with the wingers. In that play, they go for the same ball and both of them don’t make contact. And the second one was for them. That’s what happened. Of course, it was a mistake so it’s unfortunate because the team was doing a good job.”

On if Thiago Almada is the best player in the MLS

“It’s the best player for me but obviously it’s up to opinions. I think Thiago had a very good performance again. I think having a lot of players now that he can combine with help a lot. I think of course Tristan, you saw a little bit of what he is and why we signed him. Also Rossetto and Amar there were so many sequences where when Thiago is around those type of players, I think he’s going to shine even more.”

Atlanta United midfielder Amar Sejdic

On how he feels about this being the second cup tournament where the team does not fulfill, but still know that they have the regular season to look for

“Yeah, I mean this is a club with high standards. I think all the guys are motivated for every title that we can compete for. With the performance that we had, it felt so good the first half. We were knocking the ball around. So many good connections, great passes, great understanding between the guys. They had that one opportunity, banged it in. I think our response was great, maybe five minutes after it was a little slow. I think eventually towards the end of the half we were really getting after them. Second half as well. They didn’t want to play out. They were booting it long. Chances were there and at the end of the day it is football. Success is very, very hard. We just have to go back to the drawing board and get ready for Seattle in August and for a home playoff spot.”

On if it’s a silver lining that there are three weeks to work on things and if he believes the team is able to fix their mistakes by the next match

“I like to be a positive guy so I’m going to say yes. Of course, at the moment now, it’s bitter. I want to go as far as possible and win things as much as I can. Individually but also collectively, so yea just a situation where we need to build off of the performance tonight and get the pieces together and be better and get buzzing for the final stretch.”

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan

On the match

“In the game I thought we were much better. The first half, our final third play probably wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be. But in the second half, making the adjustments we needed to make and in the second half we were all over them but the difference from Tuesday to tonight was massive and that’s encouraging.”

On if there’s more pressure on the team now to get a result in the next MLS match at Seattle

“Listen there’s a good amount of time between now and that game so we’ve got to re-group, it’s as simple as that. There’s no more added pressure because of this. There’s no less pressure because of this. There’s 10 league games left and we need to make sure we go into them and pick up points and on the league side of things we pick up the table.”