Optimism is a strange feeling. Normally, taking a point from a three-game road trip wouldn’t inspire much confidence, but Atlanta United fought back to a 2-2 draw against admittedly the most awkward
baseball Football pitch in North America against the reigning MLS Cup champions is worthy of praise. Considering the performance against the Red Bulls (individual errors and result notwithstanding) and Gonzalo Pineda, who isn’t afraid to change his tactical settings for his team, it’s easy to see why the penultimate game of this long road trip could do one turning point for the Five Stripes.
That remains to be seen, of course, and Atlanta United face a home test against an Austin FC side who have won more games away than at home. But the product on the
diamond The pitch in New York on Sunday and New Jersey on Thursday showed a positive attitude that has been long absent this season. It wasn’t perfect by any means; The mental frailties and moments of lethargy need to be addressed, but even on a field that screams “anti-Atlanta,” Josef Martinez, Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almada and Marcelino Moreno (and Dom Dwyer) were finally able to play some meaningful time together and come along a result of it.
Everyone knew this match was going to be tough due to Atlanta’s defensive problems and the state of the baseball field, but the Five Stripes started the match almost level with NYCYC in every category. Both sides had chances and Josef, Araujo and Moreno missed or squandered some outstanding first-half opportunities. This gave New York some momentum and Taty Castellanos was able to get on the board just before the first 45 was over with a big misread on the backline by Alan Franco. Franco tried to catch Taty offside and was utterly unsuccessful and George Campbell was never able to catch him as he was able to slide it past Rocco Rios Novo.
However, Atlanta came out with some better on-field advances in the second half. It was Thiago Almada who played one of his signature chips over the top of the back line to a sprawled Josef Martinez who headed Sean Johnson up to make it 1-1.
Before anyone had time to celebrate, however, New York rose again after a series of incredibly disorganized defensive… oddities. George Campbell and Alan Franco apparently didn’t get together as NYCFC instituted a hiatus. It was Aiden McFadden who rushed to the ball, knocking it well to the edge of the box, but was then bounced straight back to a waiting Castellanos.
Pineda then made a clear attacking move, with Ronaldo Cisneros coming in for Amar Sejdic, while New York seemed content to ease the pressure slightly and give Atlanta some space while settling down to defend the lead. That went on without much of a chance for Atlanta until Caleb Wiley was substituted for Machop Chol and Thiago Almada for Dom Dwyer. Showing off his speed and obvious size on both sides of the ball, Machop looked pretty fresh for the time he missed. But it was Atlanta United legend Dom Dwyer who made the difference with an assist from fellow Cisneros to steal a point back from the good guys.
Credit where it’s due: Alan Franco’s through ball to Cisneros was literally perfect. The deserved point marks the end of the away stretch as the Five Stripes prepare to face Austin FC in front of a packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium next weekend. The optimism was evident in the post-game press conference, and while the last three games may not seem like much on paper, Atlanta is still just 5 points clear of not only a playoff spot but also 5th place in the Eastern Conference . If Pineda, together with MAMA, can build on the current overall form and at the same time solve the defensive problems, the optimism can become contagious. And with the addition of two new defensive players in the coming games, the Five Stripes could really take a leap.
That’s what Gonzalo Pineda, Ronaldo Cisneros and Aiden McFadden said after the game.
Gonzalo Pineda, Atlanta United head coach
About today’s game and the emotions after the game:
“A little up and down during the game. I had the feeling that we created some good chances in the first half. I remember the one to Josef (Martinez) early on at the steep pass. Then Luiz (Araujo) header and Caleb Wiley cutback on Josef. So I felt like we had a couple of good chances to get something out of the game. We’re up against the defending champions, a very good team, a very solid side with a lot of experience and a good coach. It wasn’t an easy game. There were moments where they were in control and had a few minutes up but we were able to take that pressure well at times. At the end of the game we pushed for the draw and then for the win. Praise and good statement from my team that they never gave up or gave up and we got a point for that.
On the field at Yankee Stadium:
“We know what it’s like to come to Yankee Stadium, especially during the ongoing baseball season. In this corner I was more worried that both teams could get injured. That part was bad, but it’s the same for both teams. I felt like we need to learn and adapt how to play on different surfaces, that’s part of MLS. The players did well, they never complained, so I’m happy with that. I’m glad everyone came out healthy because that part wasn’t great.”
Taking some momentum from today’s match into the next match:
“I had the feeling that we were very dominant against the New York Red Bulls, very dominant. We were by far the best team and we lost. This game was a little more balanced. Maybe New York City had better chances at times, but I think it was more of an even game where both teams created chances and we ended up with a draw. MLS is like that. We’re just halfway through the season and we need to build that momentum from those last two performances. Today is a valuable point, the performance against Red Bulls was encouraging. I don’t forget that we gave away a point to New York City at home with a free-kick goal in the last minute and that was the difference between being higher in the table than them. Well, maybe a point like that is valuable for us today, I’m optimistic about that.”
To field all three DPs in the starting XI for the first time with Marcelino Moreno:
“I liked it overall. I felt that Thiago Almada was a bit off track at times, which is normal after his break. He looked good physically but the rhythm and timing, especially against a team that’s so good in the middle of the park. The timing and distances were tough for him but he still gave Josef a fantastic assist. He had some other good pieces. It was a difficult game for Marcelino for what I asked of him today. I asked for a lot of runs back and he did as I asked but the perfect ball didn’t come to him. But I’m satisfied with his understanding of the needs of the team. Luiz and Josef will get along very well. We just have to see a few more games together to see what they can produce. But let’s not forget Ronaldo (Cisneros) who came off the bench with a great assist, then Dom (Dwyer) came on in the last 10 minutes and scored. I feel like I have enough attack power. It’s about whether we’re a bit more solid defensively, we’re going to keep a few more clean sheets and we’re going to get points for sure.”
Atlanta United striker Ronaldo Cisneros
How he would describe the point the team deserved tonight:
“When we came into the game, of course we wanted to come in and get all three points. We know New York City are a very good team. They’re the reigning MLS champions, we knew it was going to be a tough game. The fact that we came back and got a point is positive, but obviously when we play the next game we want to get all three points.”
Whether this is a moment in the season that can take the team forward:
“Of course I think we have some games ahead of us against difficult teams. As I said, all teams in this league are difficult to play. The good thing for us is that the next three games are at home and we want to get nine points from those games. We’ll try to move up the table.”
What the attack is capable of now that everyone is sane:
“Important things. Our goal is to get into the playoffs and fight for a title. They named a lot of really good players but I think it’s the whole team, it’s everyone who, when challenged, can perform well so we feel like we have a good group and everyone is fighting for places on the field but everyone is here to help the group, that’s the feeling we have.”
Atlanta United defender Aiden McFadden
About what he learned in his first three starts and how he improved:
“I’m just trying to learn a little bit from every game. Today was definitely a different experience. I feel like each game had its own challenges. Toronto had probably just grown into it. Then the Red Bulls, this press is something else. You don’t see that every day. Today you come into this atmosphere on a baseball field with a very talented team. I feel like I could have done better a few times. Dropped out, played into the back, but that’s the difference. The windows are smaller here, but players can thread those passes, so you just really adapt to the pace and then you know you’re playing against smart guys. So you always have to think, move, communicate and just try to make it as difficult as possible. I’ll watch it again and try to learn from it and I think that’s really all you can do.
If he feels like he’s a better player than he was three games ago:
“Slowly slowly. I still have a long way to go. It’s just about doing better than the day before. I’ve probably improved in some ways, I still think maybe with the ball today, I wasn’t as clean as I can be. It’s just about getting better. I might be more comfortable might be the word. But yeah, definitely a long way.”
When he is pleased that the team has achieved a tie:
“I’m definitely happy with a point, but I think everyone will say: ‘You don’t play for a draw, we want to win games.’ I’m happy to come back and get the point, but we want to win games. That’s what we’re all here for. We love to play, we love to dictate the pace of the game and we love to win, so we’re going to strive for that.”
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