The 2s welcomed fans back to the Fifth-Third Bank Stadium Wednesday tonight in their first home match of 2021 and their first match-up with a red-hot FC Tulsa. The 2s felt confident after taking 4 points in two away matches against the OKC Energy but would need a fantastic match from their combination of MLS Reserves, loanees, draftees, and academy players to beat former-2s-captain Mo Jadama’s new team. This was the first time a Tulsa team had come to Atlanta since the Tulsa Roughnecks defeated the Atlanta Chiefs 5-0 in 1980.
Coach Tony Annan began the match with the same four players in the advanced portion of the line-up with River Plate loanee Mathias Benítez once again at the false-9 position, homegrown Tyler Wolff nestled behind him at the 10, and Darwin Matheus and Connor Stanley filling the offensive flanks. Matheus Rossetto returned for his second 2s match as the central midfielder with Chris Allan positioned alongside as the 6. Aidan McFadden continued his streak at right-back while Mikey Ambrose, Alex De John, and George Campbell returned to fill out the back-line. Finally, Ben Lundgaard made his glorious return in the net for the 2s, giving rising star Rocco Ríos Novo the night off.
The match started quickly with both teams attempting to impose their style of play on the match. Atlanta United 2 wanted to play out of the back with a tenacious and aggressive press to win back the ball in Tulsa’s half. Tulsa wanted to shut down Atlanta with their veteran defensive unit and their stifling midfield with the intent of feeding their golden boot-candidate forward Rodrigo da Costa.
Atlanta embodied the bend-don’t-break philosophy as they worked to establish themselves as a unit with very little chemistry between its diverse assembly of players from across the club. Despite some shaky moments in distribution, George Campbell dominated the first half defensively, positioning himself time and time again to snuff out Tulsa opportunities. Chris Allan also grew into the game to control the central midfield.
The team started knocking on Tulsa’s door in the seventeenth minute as Allan connected with Connor Stanley on a beautiful cross-field pass. Stanley connected with Tyler Wolff who slotted a nifty backheel to Benítez for an open look that he skied over the goal.
As Atlanta settled in, the team began to shred Tulsa on the right side as Campbell, McFadden, and Stanley interlinked to spread and dissect an increasingly porous Tulsa formation. Their probing paid off in the 34th minute as McFadden earned a free-kick at a dangerous distance that earned Tulsa left-back Jorge Luis Corrales a yellow card.
Chris Allan’s first goal seemed to awaken something in this young Atlanta side as McFadden and Stanely combined again on a beautiful bit of combination play that started all of the way back with Ben Lundgaard.
Aiden McFadden slots it home for the sec...but wait...there's more pic.twitter.com/RKSQ4U7w2p— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) May 20, 2021
Minutes later, it was McFadden again for a lightning-fast brace, this time smashing home a back-post header from a beautiful cross by Mikey Ambrose.
Tulsa looked stunned. This was far from the result they were expected, especially against Atlanta United 2. As the first half wound towards its end, Tulsa could only think about one thing, regrouping in the locker room at the half. Fortunately for Atlanta, McFadden still had his eyes on the field and found a streaking Darwin Matheus on a long throw behind the Tulsa defense. Matheus connected with Tyler Wolff on a beautiful quick touch and Wolff put the nail in the coffin.
This was Tyler Wolff’s second goal in two matches and was much-needed as he spoiled on what had been a beautiful sequence that he began with a steal and ended with a moon shot in the 31st minute.
So, the half came to a close with Atlanta United edging closer and closer to avenging the Atlanta Chief’s dramatic defeat.
The second half began with a pair of substitutions by Atlanta. Will Reilly entered the match for his second appearance of the season and Josh Bauer entered for George Campbell. The midfield shuffled a bit with Reilly and Rossetto forming a central-midfield double pivot.
Tulsa must have had quite the pep talk in the locker room because they came out swinging. The bend-but-don’t-break mentality reappeared as Tulsa drove time and time again at the 2s net, twice pinging the woodwork in the 48th and 53rd minutes. The momentum was clearly favoring Tulsa and Atlanta’s attempts to kill the clock by playing deeper and deeper out of the back felt more precarious with every turnover and near miss.
The tide began to turn around the 60th minute. Reilly fired a rocket that was saved by the Tulsa keeper and 2s regulars Coleman Gannon and Bradley Kamdem Fewo entered for Matheus Rossetto and Alex De John. Stanley shifted inside to the 10 and Gannon moved out to the right where he began to terrorize the Tulsa left-back, Jorge Luis Corrales.
As the clock ticked on, an increasingly frustrated Tulsa side began to take cheap shots at Atlanta players. Gannon added to that ire with brilliant inter-play on the right flank with McFadden. In the 68th minute, McFadden barely escaped a serious injury as an irate Corrales informed referee Alyssa Nichols that he was ready for his shower by promptly two-footing McFadden with his studs in the ankle. He earned his second yellow and was obliged in his desire to no longer be part of this humiliating defeat.
Ephrain Morales entered the match in the 70th minute for Darwin Matheus who, too, had escaped serious injury minutes before to his left shoulder. Morales slotted in as a holding midfielder where his towering size and adept control of the ball can yield an intriguing opportunity since he can also slot in between the central defenders when in possession. Morales’s entry led to another shuffling of attacking players that moved Stanley out to the left-wing and Reilly to the 10.
Despite their commanding lead, Atlanta United 2 wanted more. Connor Stanley continued to play like the game was still 0-0 and the team followed his example. Mo Jadama had enough of Stanley and earned a yellow that arguably should have been a red card with a brutal challenge on the sidelines. Moments later, Efrain Morales returned the favor with a late hit on a Tulsa midfielder.
There was still plenty of fight in each team and Coleman Gannon looked hungry for more as he combined on a beautiful one-two give-and-go with Will Reilly to earn his first goal of the season.
And with that, the match was practically over. Tulsa continued their antics, blasting a ball off of a downed Stanley’s head, but Atlanta clearly controlled the match with the steady presence of Ben Lundgaard and Bradley Kamdem Kewo shepherding the match to its close.
And with that, Atlanta put the USL Eastern Conference Central on notice with a commanding win over a Tulsa team that had only allowed 6 shots on goal in the previous 3 matches. Atlanta created 7 tonight and scored on 5 of them.
The 2s also managed to avenge a nearly 41-year-old grudge between Atlanta and Tulsa, returning that favor with a 5-0 win of their own.
A Few Final Thoughts:
- Man of the Match is an extremely close contest between Connor Stanley and Aidan McFadden who were both phenomenal in all phases of the game. Despite McFadden’s 2 goals, an assist, and a hockey assist, Stanley’s impeccable play created most of Atlanta’s chances on the night so he earns the award from me.
- The kids are more than alright. I wrote this as my second point last time against OKC and that statement is even more true tonight. There was barely any noticeable drop-off in performance between the MLS Reserves starting the match and the academy and 2s players who replaced them. The announcers mentioned how Annan and Heinze are trying to build an interchangeable system of talent where players from the academy, 2s, or MLS can slot in at any level and succeed. We clearly saw that on display tonight and the rest of the USL should be very nervous. When asked about his team’s commanding victory, Aidan McFadden confided that he felt they left a lot of opportunities on the field, “We created so many chances and even still not being at our best converting them we put five away. I think it says a lot about the quality of the guys here. We want to keep it rolling. Five goals are great so I’m definitely happy about that, but I think that we all feel that there were chances where we all could have done a bit better. Just try to keep improving.”
- Finally, we should recognize the incredible unsung work of Chris Allan in the holding midfield tonight. Allan has been incredible in his first professional season with Atlanta. Allan is powerful, brilliant with a long cross-field switch, and brutal in stopping opposing runs. He is built like a classic Scottish Premier League midfielder and could have a future there if Stephen Glass is looking to build a pipeline from Kennesaw to Aberdeen.
Next up, the 2s welcome Laurent Kissiedou and Memphis 901 FC to Fifth Third Bank in a mid-afternoon match-up. The 2s will be riding high as they take on a winless Memphis side looking for direction. The 2s will likely be without many of their MLS Reserves as this fixture will overlap with the first team’s challenging away match in Seattle. You can catch the 2s on ESPN+ at 3:30 pm or view them in-person at the stadium.