Atlanta United 2 returned to the fraction in search of redemption against Gordon Wild and Indy Eleven. After two brutal bouts with Birmingham Legion, the 2s were in search of a convincing result against one of the perennial top teams in the USL Championship. Indy entered the match as a bit of a mixed bag. After drawing the 2s on July 7, Indy managed a draw against Memphis, a loss to Birmingham, and a victory in Tulsa. With both teams neck-and-neck in the playoff hunt, the 2s were looking to leapfrog Indy in the standings into 4th or 5th place.
The biggest changes to the 2s line-up are the absences of Connor Stanley, Aidan McFadden, and Rocco Ríos Novo in favor of Jay Fortune, academy youngster Noah Cobb and former 2s keeper Ben Lundgaard. Both needed a good rest so their rotation was likely planned.
With Bradley Kamdem Fewo remaining out of the line-up, Robbie Mertz kept the captain’s armband at his regular advanced midfielder position. He is joined in the midfield by Jay Fortune and Chris Allan. Darwin Matheus plays above them at a False-9, with Mackey Diop ranging the right flank and Tyler Wolff returning to his natural position at the left wing. From left-to-right, Caleb Wiley, Josh Bauer, Noah Cobb, and Bryce Washington line up as your defensive group.
The story of the night was whether a return to the wing would help unlock Tyler Wolff and to help him overcome the struggles he has experienced in adjusting to the central midfield at the MLS level.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out. Tenacious pressure from the opening whistle pins the Indy keeper in his own box and forces an error into the back of the net.
Moments later, Wolff strikes again, this time receiving a crafty slip pass from Darwin Matheus who was on a break from a counter that began with Chris Allan in the midfield.
Tyler Wolff is wasting no time tonight— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) August 8, 2021
That's ✌️ in the first six minutes!! pic.twitter.com/5GLLOyykOK
And just like that, a Tyler Wolff brace puts Atlanta United 2 ahead of an exhausted and frustrated Indy Eleven by two goals with only six minutes elapsed in the match.
Like a pack of hungry wolves, the 2s swarmed Indy, tenaciously nipping at their heels to snatch turnovers throughout the attacking half of the field. Matheus and Wolff zipped and darted through Indy’s formation, picking out passes and finding gaps to exploit. Robbie Mertz was right behind them, pushing the team forward and continuing the kind of wizardry we’ve come to expect from him.
Behind the feeding frenzy, the defensive group of Fortune, Allan, Cobb, and Bauer looked stalwart, with only a slim handful of nervy moments. Caleb Wiley showed his speed to regain his dominance of the left flank after struggling against Jonny Dean in Birmingham. On the right, Washington looked composed but one can only wonder what such a wide-open and attack-heavy game would have looked like with McFadden at the right-back spot instead of the more defensive-minded Washington.
Aside from a few dangerous counters led by Gordon Wild, Indy never had much control of the ball or of the tempo until the final 10 minutes of the half. A rash of sloppy passing and giveaways gave them their best look at goal near the end of the half when a rocket off of the foot of Manuel Arteaga was smothered at the goal line by the outstretched paw of Ben Lundgaard.
Lundgaard’s big save rallied the flagging 2s who forced Indy keeper Eric Dick to figuratively stand on his head to keep the score from being 5-0. And so a dominant first half by the 2s came to a close with Wolff’s brace the difference in the match so far.
Indy opened the second half with a couple of change-of-pace substitutions on the right side with the hope of challenging Chris Wiley with Peter-Lee Vassel and Nick Moon’s speed. They certainly did that but it was only enough to force a strong kick save by Lundgaard in the 48th minute.
Disciplined and ruthless high pressure by the 2s continued to harass and stymie Indy in all phases of the game. No third of the field was safe as the high press led by Darwin Matheus. No matter whether the ball was in transition or resting at the keeper’s feet on a goal kick, the 2s blanketed Indy’s players both upfield and downfield.
In the 50th minute, strong coverage up field by Fortune and Washington forced Indy’s keeper to play it short to his centerback but Wolff lunged into the path of the ball, rounded the keeper, and calmly slotted home his third goal of the night.
Seconds later, Indy stole one back as Moon ran past both Cobb and Bauer at the top of the box to make the score 3-1.
Rather than hang their heads and collapse like in seasons past, the 2s got right back to their same plan of high pressure, quick passing, and overwhelming movement forward. Their hard work quickly paid off as an open Caleb Wiley surveyed the scene from the top corner of the 18-yard box. He lofted a perfectly weighted curler right in front of Darwin Matheus who smashed the ball home for his third goal of the season.
Matheus took a bow as he exited for Philip Goodrum. Goodrum took up residence on the right wing with Mackey Diop sliding centrally to his regular #9 spot.
Meanwhile, at the back, the defense adjusted smoothly to Indy’s new speed with Bauer sliding over to help Wiley on Vassel’s runs. With that threat neutralized, the team could focus on feeding Goodrum.
Less than two minutes into the match, Goodrum falls hard in the box but when no whistle for a penalty sounded, he got back up and just missed past the diving Indy keeper to earn a corner.
From the corner flag, Tyler Wolff yanks a screamer to the back post where Mackey Diop heads the ball down between the keeper’s legs to make it 5-1 Atlanta United.
It's not a party without a Macky Diop goal!— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) August 9, 2021
Make it 5️⃣ for the 5-Stripes ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/REziWObAKV
With the game looking like a blow-out, Jack Collison prepared David Mejia and Connor Stanley to come in for Mackey Diop and for Tyler Wolff who had just scored a hat trick and added an assist in just 59 minutes. Not bad at all.
The front three shuffled again with Goodrum moving centrally, Mejia entering on the left, and Stanley taking the right. With Indy playing with a growing sense of desperation, one more goal by Vassel on a wonderful volley did not seem to be much of a threat. But just to be safe, Collison swapped out his midfield with a limping Chris Allan and an exhausted Jay Fortune exiting for Brendan Lambe and Abdoulaye Diop in the 67th minute.
For the most part, the fully-rotated 2s looked in control with Mejia flashing dangerously in possession and the defense continuing to offer stout resistance. As the clock wound down, Indy went down a man as defender Jared Timmer got tangled up with Goodrum and was forced to be carried off on a stretcher.
The fight for Indy seemed all but gone and the contest could have been called there, but the Assistant Referee held up five minutes more to play. For the young 2s, there is only one way to play so in the dying seconds of the match, David Mejia struck an absolute golazzo to open his scoring account for the year.
The swerve on this goal from David Mejia— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) August 9, 2021
First goal of the season ✔ pic.twitter.com/I4U3KjwS5T
So the match came to a close with the 2s dominating Indy in every phase of the game. The final score sheet favored the 2s with 56% possession and 28 shots (13 on target) to Indy’s 9. A more stark disparity came in corner kicks where the 2s lead Indy 8 to 1.
With this massive win, the 2s vault up the USL Championship Central Division standings into 4th place, ahead of OKC Energy on goal differential and just one point behind the 3rd place FC Tulsa. With their upcoming midweek fixture featuring a match-up with Oklahoma City, the 2s could look to create greater separation and potentially move more comfortably into the top-3 teams in the division.
A Few Final Thoughts
- Man of the Match goes to Tyler Wolff in what was truly a phenomenal breakout performance for the young player. Wolff has struggled mightily in his adjustments to central midfield in MLS. It is still unclear why the club deemed this to be the best move for him but he gave it his all. Back at his natural position as a wide forward, Wolff hounded the Indy defense and made their keeper’s life miserable for his nearly-60 minutes of play. Wolff will be full of confidence going forward and I would have to think the club will keep him with the 2s to keep that confidence going as the team heads into the final month and half of play.
- Darwin Matheus and Robbie Mertz both get honorable mentions for their continued fantastic play for the 2s. Both players are gifted dribblers, distributors, and defenders. They excel in getting the ball and creating chances for themselves and their teammates. It has been a pleasure to watch both of these young men play and to see them emerge as dominant players in the USL.
- The substitutes were solid tonight. David Mejia was an absolute menace and was the perfect player to terrorize Indy for the final half an hour of play. Philip Goodrum played like a man possessed and has done so ever since he came back from injury. He arguably earned 2 penalty kicks tonight and potentially could have added a lot more if a few things had fallen his way. Connor Stanley offered his usual hard shift of play that includes some brilliant runs. Brendan Lambe and Abdoulaye Diop were sturdy defensive additions to the midfield and offered near like-for-like cover for Jay Fortune and Chris Allan. The comfort this team has in almost any combination is promising as squad rotation will be a must in a highly congested sprint to the end of the season.
- Finally, the kids look good. We continue to talk about how poised and confident these young players look. Whether that is 16-year-old Caleb Wiley and Noah Cobb, or any of our recent college graduates. This team is young, but they play fearlessly.
This Wednesday, the 2s are back at the Fraction to face the Oklahoma City Energy with playoff ceding on the line. Check out the match in person or tune in on ESPN+ at 7:30 pm ET to catch all of the action.