A set piece goal conceded by ATL UTD 2 early in the second half looked as if it would sink the team to its fourth straight loss despite a brilliant effort against the Indy Eleven. Dylan Gaither, though, had other ideas.
The 18-year-old scored his first professional goal deep into second half stoppage time, denying Indy all three points in a 1-1 draw at Coolray Field.
“It happened really fast,” Gaither said of the goal after the match. “The ball (went) over the top (and) I just tried to get in behind as many times as I could. I got a lucky bounce and was able to finish it off.”
The hosts looked poised and confident against the visitors during the match as they possessed the ball well and looked to push forward for the first goal. In the 22nd minute, though, Indy had a great chance for a tap-in goal during a scramble right in front of the net, with Soony Saad’s shot seconds later being snagged by Mitch Hildebrandt. Later, in the 34th, Jon Gallagher fired a perfect cross from the right side into Devon Sandoval, but the forward couldn’t find it with his head as the match remained scoreless.
But Indy found the scoreboard first in the second half. On a 53rd minute corner, Ayoze curled it into Karl Ouimette, who headed it past Hildebrandt for the opening goal. ATL UTD 2, though, fought on and even made a bid to level it in the 71st minute, but a goal line clearance by an Indy defender kept the scoreline at 1-0 in an opportunity that equaled a glorious look at an equalizer.
It looked like ATL UTD 2 were destined for no points, but referee Greg Dopka decided to let an Atlanta attack develop with the second half past the alotted five minutes of stoppage time. They’ll be thankful he did. Natnael McDonald chipped a ball forward into the box that bounced off the head of an Indy defender and on to the feet of his academy teammate, Gaither. Gaither carried on past Owain Fon Williams, found the open net and helped Atlanta secure a home point at the death.
“This group has never once given up,” coach Scott Donnelly said. “They’ve come from behind in multiple games. We hope it’s a springboard - we hope they now know what they’re capable of in terms of sort of breaking through a little bit of a mental wall with that kind of effort.”
The draw finished off a brief two-game homestand for ATL UTD 2. It heads on the road for its final road swing of the season, starting at Toronto FC II on Friday at 8pm.
ATL UTD Starting XI: Mitch Hildebrandt, A.J. Cochran, Tyler Ruthven, Jack Metcalf (C), Jon Gallagher, Laurent Kissiedou, Andrew Kendall-Moullin, Kevin Barajas, Alessandro Castro, Devon Sandoval, Lagos Kunga
Bench: Nico Caraux, Natnael McDonald, Dylan Gaither, Luke Mitchell, Paul Christensen
Substitutions: McDonald 61’ (Ruthven), Gaither 79’ (Castro), Mitchell 85’ (Barajas)