While the preseason is a terrible time to put tons of stock into the analysis of how a soccer team will actually play real matches, there are still gems of info that can be gleaned from watching a team as it ramps up towards the first league game.
Atlanta United played Memphis 901 to a 1-1 draw on Saturday out in Athens, in a game that was rife with hard tackles, cards, dust-ups, and everything one would expect from a midseason derby day - not a friendly scrimmage.
Regardless, the atmosphere was energetic as 1700 17’s packed out the Turner Soccer Complex to watch the Five Stripes match up against the team that bounced them from the U.S. Open Cup in 2023. It would also be the fan’s first opportunity to witness newcomer Bartosz Slisz on the pitch, as he played the first half before a new XI was brought on in the second half.
The festivities were muted early as Memphis took advantage from a miscue and netted the first goal of the afternoon in the 3rd minute. Josh Cohen had yet another moment where, despite his entire body being stretched, there was nothing he could do to stop the shot. Whereas the goal against him in Birmingham took a deflection and hit the right upper 90, this one took a deflection and instead hit the left upper 90.
From there, though, there were some encouraging signs by Atlanta. Again - it’s preseason - but despite getting punched early, Atlanta shook it off and immediately began creating chances against a Memphis side that just wanted to defend, ping long balls, and frustrate the Five Stripes. While the starting XI couldn’t net a goal, they created tons of chances by exploiting the wings as Memphis clogged the midfield. Bartosz Slisz grew into the game and - remembering they had a grand total of one day training together - he and Tristan Muyumba seemed to begin gelling.
A mixture of heavy challenges, players chirping back and forth, 30 total fouls (!), and overall dark arts set a very physical tone for the two sides, but Brooks Lennon pointed out afterward that the team needs that kind of experience.
“We’ve got a target on our backs, we’re one of the best teams in MLS, I believe. Our opponents are going to come after us, and we need to not only outclass them on the field with our footballing ability but also make sure we’re up for the challenge and we’re ready from the first whistle of the game.”
That’s a perfect example of the type of intangible a fan should want to see in any match, not just a league or tournament setting. Gonzalo Pineda has mentioned multiple times that he wants the team to have that winning mentality every time they step onto a pitch, and it’s fighting through various kinds of adversity - like this Memphis match - that carries over from game to game.
The second squad entered after the half and continued a dominant performance with tons of chances. It would be Jamal Thiare who scored his first Atlanta United goal to make the game 1-1 late, but the game could easily have been 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of the Five Stripes. The match ended with Atlanta having 19 shots with 5 on goal, to Memphis’ 4 and 1.
Atlanta United 2 players Javier Armas and Matias Gallardo (a late addition over Dax McCarty) handled the midfield admirably in the second half, winning duels, creating turnovers, and overall just menacing Memphis. Brad Guzan had little to do for the 45 minutes he was on the pitch, and Tyler Wolff caused havoc down the left wing.
The 1-1 score line is certainly the least telling of the entire story that played out Saturday, and the match was a great test as the team prepares to leave for Florida for the rest of their preseason. The Five Stripes face off against CF Montreal in St. Petersburg on Wednesday before taking on the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday.
Be sure to let us know what you thought of the match!