Before we start the recap, let’s first take a moment to recognize the incredible impact Will Reilly has had for the Atlanta United Academy and for Atlanta United 2. Reilly has grown immensely as a midfielder and as an athlete for the club from his 2s debut three years ago to today. He is stronger, faster, more technically sound, and more confident as a player than we have ever seen and he will be greatly missed by the organization and by his teammates. He is a vital element of the 2s starting team and it will be really strange not seeing him suiting up for us until he returns as a Homegrown Player. This was his last official match for the organization before he departs to begin school at the highly prestigious Stanford University next month. Stanford is a strong collegiate soccer program that will offer Reilly every opportunity to continue his development and be part of a perennial postseason contender. Best of luck, Will Reilly! We can’t wait to welcome you back.
Atlanta United 2 welcomed Gordon Wild and Indy Eleven to the Fraction for the first time in 2021. Wild was one of Atlanta’s early draft picks and played for the 2s in the past but could not find a place with the team. After spending time with DC United and the LA Galaxy, he was back and looking to impress in front of his old club.
Jack Collison rolled out a new lineup with a lot of speed and shiftiness up top. With Mathias Benítez suspended, Danial Sebhatu returned to the starting-11 as the point man up top, flanked by Connor Stanley to the left and Darwin Matheus to his right. Robbie Mertz, Will Reilly, and Chris Allan suited up for the last time as a trio in the midfield, and Bryce Washington resumed his play at centerback alongside Bradley Kamdem Fewo. Caleb Wiley and Aidan McFadden lined up at fullback and Rocco Ríos Novo returned to goal.
The 2s began the match short-handed on their bench with Josh Bauer and the first-team reserves unavailable. On the bright side, the team was able to welcome Phillip Goodrum back to the bench for the first time in over a month after his recovery from surgery. Even though he did not appear in the match, it is good to see him back.
Much of the first half was dominated by a wide-open run of play with neither team establishing clear control over the pace of the match. Early on, both teams got good looks at goal with Indy finding the more dangerous chances. The frenetic pace and chaos of the match seemed to suit the 2s who grew as they consistently repulsed Indy’s attacks. Rocco Ríos Novo even got a good chance to show off his prowess with the ball at his feet as he casually evaded pressure and slotted pinpoint passes to his midfielders.
On the opposite side of the field, Atlanta’s pressure clearly frustrated and disrupted Indy’s game plan as Sebhatu, Stanley, and Matheus badgered the opposing defenders and keepers every chance they got. Matheus nearly even picked the keeper’s pocket.
After about a quarter of the match was gone, Atlanta’s offense came to life. Stanley, Wiley, Matheus, and McFadden began probing Indy’s flanks and switching fields to find their opposite flank partner crashing to the back post.
At the center, Sebhatu developed a respectable hold-up game as he became increasingly isolated as the solo forward for the 2s. Instinctively, he began to drop deeper into the midfielder to find the ball and then turned to distribute as his teammates surged past him. Despite playing most of his academy career as a wing, Sebhatu started to look like an old pro at center forward.
And so the first half came to a close with Stanely and Matheus bringing a ton of energy into the team. Robbie Mertz also found the game after an invisible opening 10 minutes to become one of the team’s biggest threats going forward in possession.
On the hunt again in the second half ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/1PMtuxAOTD— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) July 8, 2021
The second half began with an Indy substitution. Caleb. Wiley had neutralized Gordon Wild to such an astonishing degree that Wild was pulled at half-time in exchange for Nick Moon. Atlanta’s only change at the half was to flip Stanley and Matheus to opposite wing positions.
All of the momentum in the next 20 minutes swung to Indy. Atlanta struggled to break free from Indy’s siege. A goal felt more and more imminent.
Collison sensed the danger and swapped Ajani Fortune for Darwin Matheus to add some defense and bulk to the midfield. Fortune could sit deeper and allow Mertz, Reilly, and Stanley to push higher up the pitch.
Even with the extra midfielder, Indy still managed to bully Atlanta early in the build-up. Heavy touches and messy collection of passes led to turnover after turnover through the midfield. In the 64th minute, a particularly ill-fated spill by Allan led to a defensive breakdown and the first goal of the match. Moon found Jordan Hamilton at the top of the 6-yard box for a point-blank volley past Ríos Novo.
One consistently admirable trait of the 2s is that they never believe they are out of a match. Being behind just fires them up.
Fortune seemed to forget he was brought on to play a defensive role and nearly equalized the match three times, forcing two saved, and a nervy leap from the keeper to protect the crossbar. Fortune seemed to indeed favor the bold, as just moments later Fortune sent the ball out wide to Wiley who caromed a cross into Stanley. Stanely pirouetted and blasted his shot home to draw the game level.
Turns on a dime and finds the top shelf— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) July 8, 2021
What a way for No. 1️⃣1️⃣ to open his account ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/kC4xbvhBzx
With a draw in hand and defense becoming more of a priority, Collison traded the larger and speedy Alex Garuba for Sebhatu who left the match after yet another impressive performance. It is hard to believe he is only 15.
The match spread out with both teams chasing the winning goal. The battle in the midfield intensified as one errant touch could spell disaster for either team.
In the 80th minute, Reilly added to his highlight reel with a brilliant turn in the center of the park to spring himself forward and launch the attack forward. His hard work nearly earned a goal but Garuba’s header went wide. Moments later, Garuba redirected a McFadden towards goal but was saved.
With the 2s unable to find the second goal, the fate of the match would fall to the defense to keep Indy to one goal. In the 88th minute, Ríos Novo stretched to his very limit to redirect a shot on goal and then pounced on the ball at Arteaga’s feet to deny Indy.
Moments later, Ríos Novo came up big again for another key save off of a bad giveaway by an utterly drained Caleb Wiley.
When the referee’s whistle blew for full-time, a massive sigh of relief went out from the 2s, the bench, and the stands. The 2s left it all on the field and did everything they could to claim a point. Remarkably, after being unable to make it to the other side of the field, Wiley ushered the last bit of his strength to leap for a vital clearance to close out the match.
This was a big result, and this team should be proud of it.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
- Tonight we completely agree with the 2s media staff with our Man of the Match selection. Connor Stanley played one of his best matches with the 2s and was a much-needed injection of energy and enthusiasm on the pitch. Stanley is a joy to watch as he doggedly pursues his opponents when on defense and expertly weaves his way through opposing defenders in possession. To top things off, his goal was a thing of beauty. Congratulations to Connor.
2. Next, we should recognize the brilliant play by so many of our young players tonight. Reilly, Wiley, Sebhatu, and Fortune all impressed and showed how high the level of talent is that is emerging from the academy. All four of these players could and should sign their first professional contract with Atlanta United.
3. This may have been Robbie Mertz’s best match for us so far. He and Collison have worked extremely hard to integrate him and his skillset into the midfield. After a late start to his season due to injury, Mertz has emerged as an excellent blue-collar #10 for the 2s and an intriguing player to have in the system going forward. His passing, spacing, and movement make everyone around him better.
Atlanta United 2 will need all of the rest they can get over the next few days because they are back at it on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City II. Luckily this will also be a home match, but with few players to rotate, this could be a fatigued squad that takes the field Saturday evening. Look for Mathias Benítez and Phillip Goodrum to potentially make their returns.