As Atlanta United 2 returned to the Fraction for their final home game, they were in desperate need of the kind of fresh start that returning home could provide. The 2s had just suffered two disappointing defeats to Birmingham and Rio Grande Valley and their playoff window continued to shrink. Getting results in this midweek match-up would be key but the only problem was the Eastern Conference buzzsaw that is Louisville City FC. Luckily, the last time these teams met in Atlanta, the 2s managed a 1-0 stunner against one of the top teams in the USL-Championship. Maybe, just maybe, that magic could happen again.
With Caleb Wiley still unavailable and Mikey Ambrose on the bench against Inter Miami CF, Coach Collison was forced to once again be creative with who he started at left-back and how that would impact the entire line-up. While the opening formation may have looked a little wonky, it settled into a straight-forward 4-3-3 very quickly with Bradley Kamdem Fewo shifting out to a traditional left-back position, Noah Cobb and Josh Bauer positioned as the two centerbacks, and Aidan McFadden in his regular right-back spot. Ahead in the midfield, Abdoulaye Diop and Robbie Mertz were tasked with battling the staunch Louisville engine room so that Darwin Matheus could have room to run freely behind the forwards. David Mejia got the start at left wing with Mackey Diop and Philip Goodrum lining up with him across the front-3.
The match started quickly with the 2s being forced all of the way back into their right corner flag in the opening seconds, but that seems to have been their plan all along. Evading the press and looking upfield, Bauer connected with Darwin Matheus near midfield on the right touchline. Matheus took the ball, spun out of a trap, and charged towards the center, finding David Mejia mid-sprint down the opposite flank. Mejia collected the ball at his feet, charged into the box, and fired just wide.
The 2s had just done more than catch Louisville sleeping, they set the tone for the entire match and let the division-leading veteran side know this was not going to be an easy win. They came out of the locker room with aggression, poise, and a clear plan for how they wanted to beat Louisville. The only question was whether they could get the opening goal.
The tempo of the match began to calm around the 10th minute as Louisville found their way into the match. The rapid end-to-end excitement and the 2s domination of the pace of play shifted dramatically to a slow and methodical style through which Louisville calmly and efficiently broke through any pressure the 2s showed to move the ball from their defensive third to in front of goal in a handful of passes. Whenever they lost possession, the 2s would nearly always oblige them by returning that possession right back to their midfielders or backline to recirculate and start their build-up again.
In the 20th minute, a beautifully choreographed march downfield by Louisville found the ball at the feet of left wing Jimmy McLaughlin as he slipped behind the defense into the box. An emergency windsprint by Noah Cobb across the defense forced McLaughlin to rush his shot and loft an easy save to Rocco Ríos Novo.
Around the 25th minute, the 2s regained the initiative and started making the Louisville keeper break a sweat. First, McFadden whipped a beautiful ball from the right corner flag to a leaping Mackey Diop who connected at the back post to force a save. One minute later, the 2s pressure won them the ball in midfield and Goodrum barrelled forward with options in front of him. Goodrum surveyed his options with acres of space ahead of him. With no challenge coming, he rifled a shot towards goal that nearly decapitated the keeper forcing what looked like a punch but was more likely a Scott Sterling-style miracle save.
A few minutes later, Matheus connected with Mejia again with a nearly identical ball to the one that created the first chance of the game. Mejia charged towards the goal and fired a shot that ricocheted out for a corner.
With the 2s racking up chances and corners, everyone watching felt the goal coming. In the 39th minute, Bradley Kamdem Fewo made a hard physical run, hand fighting the whole way with Brian Ownby, towards the box. Just a few steps off of the touchline, Ownby finally took Kamdem down, earning a free-kick for the 2s. McFadden sprinted over to the ball and stood there glowering at the scrum ahead of him.
The 2s’ celebration was short-lived though as a Louisville blitz on the other end forced three quick and clutch saves by Ríos Novo.
And so the teams went to the half with this still feeling like anyone’s game.
It did not take long for Louisville to find the back of the net in the second half. In just the 51st minute, Cameron Lancaster outjumped Noah Cobb, who had otherwise played a phenomenal match, to bang home a back-post header off of the first corner of the second half.
Just minutes later, the 2s narrowly escaped goal number 2 for Louisville as a bit of cuteness in what looked like the soccer version of setting up a basketball alley-oop ended with the 2s forcing a turnover and dribbling the ball off of their own goal line.
Sensing the need for a change, Collison brought on Connor Stanley for Phillip Goodrum who had played a stellar night combining with McFadden on the right side. Now with Stanley as his dance partner, McFadden took turns creating his own brand of havoc up and down the flank, using Stanley’s speed and ability to hold onto the ball to combine nicely. Their runs created all sorts of problems for Bauer, though, as he was often left on an island when his right-sided partners were committed downfield on turnovers.
David Mejia and Darwin Matheus created their own kind of chaos on the left with Kamdem offering his physical and stout presence up and down the flank.
In the 77th minute, the 2s nearly earned themselves a penalty when a quick restart by McFadden to Mertz found Matheus running free through the right side of the box. Matheus went down in a crumpled pile but the referee was unimpressed.
This would be the last action of the night for Matheus as Mathias Benitez waited patiently to take his place.
The rest of the match was an encouraging display of emergency defending mixed with chances downfield but in the end, neither side was able to find that final breakthrough goal. The 2s even brought on target-man Alex Garuba in for Mackey Diop in the 90th minute in search of a last-second goal but there was no more magic this season in the Fraction.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
- Man of the Match tonight goes to Aidan McFadden who played one of his more complete matches of the back-half of the season. After setting the world ablaze in the opening months of the campaign, McFadden came down to Earth, still playing courageously and intelligently but rarely finding the same dynamic and exciting results of his early season. That turns out to have been a benefit to the young player as he has been forced to rely on his mind as much as his natural scoring abilities to create chances for his teammates but also to play unselfishly in defense.
- We need to recognize how much faith Collison showed Noah Cobb tonight. Cobb has played beyond his years as a central defender and once again rewarded his coach with a near-perfect performance. Unfortunately, his one glaring error led to the equalizer, but otherwise, this is yet another confidence-building performance for the young man.
- The 2s needed all 3 points to stay in the hunt tonight. That didn’t happen. But they were able to get a big result against a very talented veteran team at home who were looking for all three points themselves so that is certainly something to hold onto as the team prepares to finish the season on the road.
Next up, the 2s begin their season-ending road trip in Indianapolis as they take on the Indy Eleven on Saturday, October 2nd with the broadcast starting at 7:00 pm. They are mostly playing as spoilers now with their chances of making it into the playoffs nearly gone. The club has a lot of decisions to make about the intriguing talent on this side so these final matches are a chance for every player to make their final pitch for why they belong with Atlanta United in 2022.