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ATL UTD 2 Earn Hard-Fought Draw Against Memphis

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Red cards at halftime the turning point in the match

Atlanta United 2 returns to the fraction to take on Memphis 901 FC, a team that is quickly becoming a despise nemesis of our young club. These players just don’t like each other. Memphis plays with a lot of physicality and want to frustrate opponents into making mistakes they can capitalize on through counterattacks. With these teams meeting for the third time so far this season, there was going to be a lot of bad blood on display.

After playing just one half together Wednesday night, Jack Collison runs out the same starting field player group with Alec Kann replacing Rocco Ríos Novo in goal in preparation for his expected 2021 MLS season debut next week while first-team starter Brad Guzan is away on international duty at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The difference from the previous line-up, though, is that Collison rotated the outer 7 players one position clockwise, so Caleb Wiley at left wing, Danial Sebhatu at center forward, Mathias Benítez at right wing, Aidan McFadden at right-back, and so on. With the stats wiped clean from the lightning-shortened midweek match, this officially marks the debut of academy forward Danial Sebhatu, the first of the class of 2005 to debut. Aidan McFadden also makes his first official return to the pitch, looking to replace the now-disallowed goal from Wednesday night.

The match began with a dominant opening ten minutes by Atlanta United focused mostly on playing through Caleb Wiley in his new advanced position on the left. It did not take long for the first shot of the game with a well-weighted cross by Wiley finding Mertz. Wiley followed that up one minute later to earn a corner.

The next twenty minutes were all Memphis. Memphis imposed their will in midfield making the match a living hell for Will Reilly and Chris Allan. Passing slowed, touches became heavy, and possession fell apart. Meanwhile, Kyle Murphy made it his personal mission in life to bully Bryce Washington, and maybe find a goal if he could work it into his schedule. In the 22nd minute, Murphy got his first opportunity, bodying Washington to the outside to get a free run at goal. Kann came out by whiffed on a sliding save and Murphy opened his account for Memphis to put them up 1-0. Atlanta’s energy dropped. Five minutes later, a counter that started with a turnover by Reilly in the midfield lead to Murphy’s second goal on the day.

The team desperately need to make it to half-time, or at least to a stoppage so that they could regroup. That opportunity came in the 36th minute when a Memphis injury allowed the 2s a chance to huddle around Collison. Atlanta was in desperate need of some fight, some attitude, what Larentowicz called “the nasty”. Benítez was happy to oblige. Like a bloody Rocky coming out of a corner pep talk, the 2s staggered back onto the field with a blue-collar sense of invincibility. Just a few minutes later, they got their best chance of the match from a high miss by Benítez set up by Wiley and McFadden.

As the first half wound down, the 2s felt a goal was near. They badgered and nipped at Memphis’s heals, refusing to let them burn the clock. In the final seconds, Benítez got on Memphis right-back Mark Segbres’s last nerve. Segbres pegged Benítez in the face with a ball leading to an all-out brawl between the two sides. The referees lost complete control of the match and gave both Segbres and Benítez red cards to try to cool things off. For good measure, they also gave Rocco Ríos Novo a yellow for joining the brawl from the bench. The rest of the match would be played 10 v 10 with Atlanta desperate for two goals.

The newly vacated real estate on the field offered a unique advantage for Atlanta. Memphis was forced to take out a midfielder to fill their right-back vacancy, opening up room for the 2s to maneuver. With room to run, Chris Allan put Memphis on notice that this game was not over yet with a 48th-minute rocket from distance just over the crossbar.

Just a few minutes later, Aidan McFadden charged forward on the right and lofted a dangerous cross into the box. The Memphis keeper dropped what should have been an easy grab right to the feet of Danial Sebhatu who blasted it into the top of the net.

The goal hit the team like an adrenaline shot through the sternum. Collison felt the momentum shift and brought on Jay Fortune for Will Reilly to further tip the balance in the midfield. Fortune would bring a nastier defensive bite to the midfield and would free up Chris Allan to be the box-to-box option.

Now chasing just one goal, the team pushed everything forward with Josh Bauer sitting back as the lone defender. He could not allow a counter to get past him so the fate of the match was on his shoulders. Bauer had to be Miles Robinson, and Miles Robinson he was. Countless times, Bauer sprinted back and forth across the field to bail out the team and beat Memphis’s forwards to the ball. He played like a man possessed. The team felt it and they responded.

After the 70th minute, the substitutions came quickly with Connor Stanley entering for Bradley Kamdem Kewo and Darwin Matheus entering for Danial Sebhatu.

Matheus brought an immediate dynamism to the flow the field, cutting inside along the outside of the box to find teammates on slip balls through toward goal. Matheus and Stanley were all over the place, tracking back on defense, running at defenders, and combining up the flanks with their teammates to create unrelenting pressure on Memphis.

As stoppage time wound down with the 2s behind, Memphis looked as if they would once again dash the hopes of the 2s. They absorbed wave after wave of the attack with McFadden, Mertz, and Matheus probing around the outside of the box, looking for any chance they could to find an equalizer.

In the final seconds, Matheus cut back across the top of the box and was sent clattering to the field just inside the box. PENALTY! With the game on the line, Matheus stood over the ball surveying the patchwork of sod in front of him. He measured the approach, the keeper, and himself. With a quick skip and a hop, he sent the Memphis keeper flying left as he buried the goal in the right corner.


A Few Final Thoughts:

  1. The Man of the Match tonight goes to the brilliant substitute performance by Darwin Matheus. Matheus played his most impressive and dangerous minutes of the season so far, injecting much-needed speed, shiftiness, and the ability to cut inside to find slip passes to other forwards. Mathes played all over the field, using his energy to help get back to defend and to push the ball forward. He put everything on the line, sacrificing his body for his penalty. He even did his best Josef Martinez impression with a little hop and skip on his penalty routine.
  2. The honorable mention tonight was Josh Bauer. Josh Bauer put on a show in the second half doing his best Miles Robinson impression. With the team down to 10 men and with most of the field players pushing forward in search of a goal, Bauer was left as the sweeper, the sole man responsible for keeping Atlanta’s hopes alive for salvaging a point. Bauer found a new gear and sped back and forth across the field to shut down any chance of a Memphis counterattack.
  3. Congratulations to Danial Sebhatu for his first “official official” start and the first official goal of his young career. Sebhatu had a tough first half with Memphis squeezing the field and clogging up passing lanes but he still found ways to get involved with clever back shoulder runs off of the defense. He helped in the build-up in open play and looked to grow into the game. With two fewer players on the pitch in the second half, Sebhatu found more room to run and to play a more traditional #9 center forward role. He relaxed, got into good positions, and earned a great debut goal the way any poacher should.
  4. This was Alec Kann’s warm-up start before what will be at least a month-long stint as the club’s MLS keeper. Kann missed badly on the first goal and did not show the confidence and presence that he had in his two previous starts with the 2s.
  5. We finally got an answer for while the field looks terrible. The facility is switching out the grass from rye to bermudagrass and they are in the middle of seeding the replacement. In theory, the new grass seeds will overtake the old grass seeds, and that's enough landscape talk for one soccer blog recap.

Next up, Atlanta United 2 has another short week with a midweek clash back at the Fraction against Indy Eleven. The match will begin at 7:30 and will be streamed on ESPN+.