UPDATE: Remember that 1-0 loss for ATL UTD 2 at Sporting Kansas City II that supposedly ended its playoff hopes? Well, SKC II’s Jake Davis was supposed to be out due to yellow card accumulation but played anyway, and as such, the 2s have been awarded a 3-0 win by forfeit. They’re currently on 34 points, 5 points of out playoff places with 2 matches left, so they still need to win out and get help to make the postseason.
Atlanta United 2 traveled to Children’s Mercy Park to take on Sporting Kansas City II in the final class between these two MLS affiliates of the 2021 season. The 2s were hanging on to their playoff hopes by their fingernails, needing wins in every remaining fixture to have a chance. SKC had no realistic shot at the playoffs so this match was for pride, player development, and bragging rights going into 2022.
Coach Collison scribbled in a few names to the starting 11 who have been absent from the team’s group of starters for a good while. Most significantly is the talented young left-back Caleb Wiley who played left wing alongside Mackey Diop and Darwin Matheus. Robbie Mertz and Abdoulaye Diop anchored the middle of the pitch behind Mathías Benítez. Bradley Kamdem Fewo returned to left-back on defensive with Noah Cobb, Josh Bauer, and Aidan McFadden. Finally, academy prospect Vicente Reyes got a rare start in goal, filling in for Rocco Ríos Novo.
The match started with the same breakneck and chaotic tempo that defined so many of the matches between these teams. The opening minutes were wide open with the field stretched and flipping every few seconds with both teams desperately seeking an early goal. Both teams also started the match with relentless high presses but it was SKC’s press that proved to be more effective, pinning the 2s back on defense for most of the half.
Overall, the 2s played incredibly stout and heroic defense to absorb and redirect wave upon wave of SKC’s attacks but their struggle was breaking out into a counter of their own and potentially turning that into possession or a goal.
The tide began to turn for the 2s as Wiley began around the 20th minute to oscillate between his traditional wingback role and advanced wing role on the left, winning balls higher up the pitch and getting more involved in overlapping runs with Kamdem Fewo and Darwin Matheus. By the 30th minute, the 2s gained a bit of momentum and help possession for their first real extended run of the half. It was in this run of possession that they earned the best chance for either team in the half.
In the 37th minute, possession circulated back to Bauer who picked up his head to find Wiley deep downfield. Wiley nodded a near-perfect header back across the face of the goal to the penalty spot where Darwin Matheus rocketed a header of his own directly at the SKC keeper.
The team’s next great chance came in the final seconds of the half as Bauer send another ball to Mackey Diop who redirected it down to the feet of Darwin Matheus. Matheus sprinted along the edge of the 18’ before rocketing a curling ball just wide of the post and the diving keeper.
The first substitution of the match came at the half as David Mejia entered for Caleb Wiley to insert a more natural attacking threat into the match.
Mejia was an absolute menace when he got on the ball. He split defenders up the left flank and whipped in a dangerous cross after staying upright through challenges that would have toppled most forwards.
After weathering a rocky opening to the half, the 2s looked very much in control after the 50th minute with Robbie Mertz nearly creating a brilliant solo goal that began with his kind of signature run from the central midfield. Off of the ball, Darwin Matheus drew defenders away so that Mertz could get an open look off of the right side of the 18’ but he pulled his shot wide back across goal.
On the restart, Abdoulaye Diop picks an SKC player’s pocked in the attacking third and feeds Mackey Diop into the box but Mackey’s shot was smothered by the keeper.
Back at the other end of the field, Vicente Reyes came up big with a left-handed save to parry a point-blank shot wide. What makes that save more impressive is that he was shielded from view of the shot by Noah Cobb the whole time.
In the 66th minute, Jay Fortune entered for Benítez, and a couple of minutes later Philip Goodrum entered for Mackey Diop. Goodrum’s substitution immediately cost the 2s as a missed marking on a restart in midfield by Goodrum allowed Mushagalusa to thread a beautiful pass into Atlanta’s box to the feel of Cisneros who shot past Noah Cobb and found the far corner to put the home side up by a goal.
The 2s found a new sense of urgency in search of both an equalizer and a goal to go ahead so that they could keep their season alive.
In the 71st minute, Goodrum got bowled over just outside of the top left corner of the 18’ yard box. On the free-kick, McFadden whipped a hard sinking shot right at the keeper to try to force a spill but the keeper held on for the save.
In the 73rd minute, it was Matheus’ turn to earn a dangerous free-kick opportunity. This one was a longer attempt but lined up square to the goal. Kamdem Fewo fired an absolute rocket towards the bottom left corner that was barely saved and spilled. Both Matheus and Goodrum dove in for the rebound but were annihilated by the keeper as he cleared his mess.
In the 81st minute, Collison brought on Danial Sebhatu and Connor Stanely for Noah Cobb and Abdoulaye Diop to try to force more attacking talent onto the pitch. Mejia dropped to left-back with Stanley taking his position on the left wing.
The rest of the match can best be summed up as a flurry of chances for both sides that made for exciting viewing but in the end, did not impact the final result.
Massive effort, but we come up short in the end. pic.twitter.com/6Y1bnSTMKL— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) October 14, 2021
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
- This one stings. After coming off of eleven days of rest, this result cannot be blamed on fatigue or squad rotation. This felt like a side that could come away with the points this team needed to keep their post-season hopes alive. But they fell short and failed to create the magic that has sustained them for most of the season.
- The defense was mostly phenomenal. While the team struggled with imposing their will in possession, the squad defended admirably and held off a team that could have put four or five goals past them if they had had more quality. Louisville, Birmingham, or Tampa Bay probably make this match a route simply because of the possession imbalance but the 2s did what they needed to do to stay in this match until the very end.
- This match also gave some young players some valuable opportunities to show coaches what role (if any) they intend to play with the club next season. It was good to see Cobb, Reyes, and Wiley out there in the starting group. All of these players are 17 or younger so they have plenty of future ahead of them. We will discuss them more in a future post mortem on the season but for now, we are impressed with the growth and promise of our youngest players.
And so we get ready to do this again on short rest as the 2s travel to Memphis this Saturday for their second-to-last match of the season. The match starts at 7:00 pm EST and will stream on ESPN+.