Atlanta United 2 traveled to Tulsa for their final match of the season. With the playoffs now out of reach, the team was playing for pride and for a potential place on the team next year. This match meant a whole lot more to Tulsa who were vying for key ceding in the playoffs.
Coach Collison went back to the 4-3-3 once again this week with a front line of David Mejia, Darwin Matheus, and Philip Goodrum upfront. Jay Fortune, Robbie Mertz, and Abdoulaye Diop returned to the midfield. Caleb Wiley got another start on the left next to Noah Cobb, while Bryce Washington and Aidan McFadden rounded out the right side of the defense. After several matches off, Rocco Ríos Novo returned to goal in his final opportunity to impress the decision-makers at Atlanta United before his loan expired.
The 2s started off on the front foot of a wide-open match. Aside from the opening corner earned by Tulsa, the 2s largely controlled the opening 10 minutes. They looked impressive. The young team pinned Tulsa back into their own third with a tenacious high press and connected at will up the flanks with quick passing, winning the ball back when it turned over. The 2s were playing the kind of football that have made them statistical leaders in passes per match and near the top of the table in completion percentage. Unfortunately, all of this impressive play fell short of creating an opening goal.
Everything fell apart for the 2s beginning in the 17th minute. Quick counterattacks and failed clearances by Washington and Wiley opened the scoring for Tulsa in what felt flukey and completely against the run of play, but that quickly changed with momentum swinging hard in Tulsa’s favor.
A couple of minutes later, Washington was called on again, this time making a key slide tackle to clear a promising Tulsa attack out for a corner. Despite defending the corner well, the 2s could only clear to midfield where Tulsa regrouped and whipped the ball back into the box to the head of Caleb Wiley. Wiley’s clearance went only as far as the top of the box where it was volleyed home past Ríos Novo to double Tulsa’s lead.
Taking advantage of the 2s’ stunned state, Tulsa added a third goal in the 23rd minute on a backpost header by Kevin Garcia. This came after Wiley was beaten badly down the flank with Rivas getting in behind him on goal. Ríos Novo got big to clear the shot out for a corner but the key mistake could not be overcome.
For the rest of the half, the 2s looked flat and lost. They tried to get back to the same promising movement and press of the opening minutes but had suddenly lost their ability to complete a pass. Their vision narrowed and their touches grew heavy and wayward. If it were not for a few more key saves, the scoreline could have been 4-0 or 5-0 in Tulsa’s favor at the half.
The team needed a spark of inspiration and some new ideas so the 2s brought on three substitutes at the half. Bradley Kamdem Fewo came on for Bryce Washington who suffered a scary clash of heads in the first half. Mackey Diop came in for David Mejia and pushed Matheus out to the left wing. Finally, to attempt to find some stability in the midfield build-up, Brendan Lambe entered for Jay Fortune.
The good news is that the 2s came out of their locker room with a clear plan to play their style of possession-based attacking football and they largely were able to do that, dominating possession in the second half. The bad news is that they were largely toothless in this possession and only managed a few decent chances at a goal. Tulsa was quite content to sit back in their 4-4-2 block and allow the 2s to pass to their hearts’ content.
By the 50th minute, Tulsa made it quite clear this was going to be an exhibition in the second half and sent in their entire shift of substitutes by the 63rd minute. Even against largely a team of reserves, the 2s were unable to find an opening that could result in a goal. There were plenty of ideas and enticing crosses from Wiley and Matheus on the left and McFadden on the right but the end product forgot to travel with the team to Tulsa.
Connor Stanley joined the fun in place of Goodrum in the 65th minute and Benítez also potentially got his last minutes with Atlanta United beginning in the 74th minute when he entered for Matheus. Neither player made a sizeable difference in the remainder of the match.
The last decent chance of the match for the 2s came on a well-placed in-swinging ball from Robbie Mertz at the corner flag that found Mackey Diop wide open in front of goal but his header flashed over the bar.
With all ideas exhausted and players losing interest in the match, Tulsa capitalized on a disorganized 2s defense to release Joaquín Rivas wide open into acres of space on the left flank. He had about an hour to survey the field before meeting a defender and opted to cross to Lucas Coutinho. Coutinho buried the no-doubt sitter and released the ashes of Atlanta United 2’s season into the galeforce winds blasting them in the face.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
- This marks a disappointing end to what was statistically the best season in the 2s’ brief history. The team finished with 1.06 points per match which beats their previous best from 2019, and allowed the fewest goals per match in the team’s history despite the collapse in the final two months of the season. There is a lot to feel optimistic about from this group and plenty of intrigue going into their off-season.
- The club will have some key decisions to make on several players. We will discuss this in more depth next week in our Season Review but for now, there are a lot of questions about the future of the players on loan and on one-year contracts. Connor Stanley, Mathías Benítez, and Rocco Ríos Novo may all be returning to their home clubs from their loans but in the case of Benítez and Stanley, those clubs may have already moved on. For veterans like Bradley Kamdem Fewo and Robbie Mertz, are they willing to return for another year to a young development side or would they rather win?
- Thank you all for sticking with us on this lengthy journey. The 2s are a unique experience for fans. They are an exciting opportunity to see young players auditioning in real-time for their future with the club that we all love. They could be the future and we have the privilege of watching their growth. They require patience, perspective, and a big-picture vision to get past the rough patches while also offering spurts of brilliance. We appreciate you joining us in supporting them.
The 2s will return for their final season in the USL-Championship in the Spring of 2022.