Matchday: 7 (4/15/23)
Opponent: Toronto FC
Score: 2 - 2 (Giakoumakis - ‘4, Chol - ‘76) (Laryea - ‘43, Servania - ‘90+4)
Updates: Brad Guzan was ruled out for 10-12 weeks after tearing his MCL against NYCFC last week. Franco Ibarra missed this match due to a red card. Thiago Almada still suffering from a leg injury(not serious though)
Disappointingly, Atlanta experienced another positive result slip away from them in the last seconds of their away campaign up north in Toronto. Toronto sat around the mid-table drawing their last 5 of 6 games, 2 of them being 0-0. Toronto has not been a menacing team as of late especially with a few starters injured, so this was a team Atlanta should have beat.
Atlanta showed, early on, how much of a threat we were up top as opposed to the last few seasons with Giakoumakis scoring a beautiful header in the 4th minute. Derrick Etienne Jr. won a corner that Brooks Lennon took. Giakoumakis ran to the near post and flicked the ball backward, looping it over the international Sean Johnson and into the far post. That’s 4 goals in the last 4 matches for the man. He’s clearly proving to the United fanbase that he’s the real deal.
The first half was relatively even. Toronto had a bit more possession of the ball and a few more shots than Atlanta, but Atlanta stood their ground. Near the end of the first half, Toronto forced a lapse in Atlanta’s defense when their defender Laryea created a goal-scoring chance from his right side of the pitch. He linked up with his winger, passing the ball and continuing his run to receive it a few seconds later. Laryea dribbled towards the center of the pitch unmarked with no one pressing until he reached the top of the 18 and unleashed a vicious strike, putting the ball into the back of the net.
The second half started with Atlanta on the front foot. Etienne had a sight at goal trying to curl the ball into the far right post, but his shot curled just wide of the post. In the 50th minute, Giakoumakis had to come off due to an apparent hamstring injury. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and Atlanta doesn’t keep losing any more starters. Atlanta head coach, Gonzalo Pineda, brought on Miguel Berry to replace him, although Berry was relatively quiet for the second half.
In the 64th minute, Pineda brought on Machop Chol to replace Amar Sejdic and Andrew Gutman to replace Caleb Wiley. These two players instantly made a difference. Gutman presented a real attacking threat on that left-hand side having a shot on goal a few minutes after coming on.
Likewise, Chol proved to be lively driving at the Toronto backline having a go himself. In the 76th minute, Gutman received the ball from Chol and lined up as if he was going to have a shot, but instead, he lobbed it over to Araujo who crossed the ball into the box finding Chol, and Chol heads it into the back post in stunning fashion (similar to Giakoumakis’s goal in the 1st half) for his debut goal in the MLS.
Leading away from home just like they were the week prior against NYCFC, you’d think Atlanta would be able to manage the game better and steal all 3 points. Naturally, Toronto started playing with more energy to try and salvage a point, and so, Atlanta went into defense mode.
Toronto had a few more chances but Atlanta keeper Westberg was able to keep them out. After the 90th minute, the referee gave 4 extra minutes of injury and by that time, every Atlanta fan watching the game was on the edge of their seat waiting for the ref to blow his whistle.
The whistle didn’t come until after the last attack of the game with Toronto building up from the back and getting the ball out to their left winger, Jahkeele, into space behind Atlanta’s backline. Jahkeele hit a low cross to the center of the 18-yard box connecting with Brandon Servania. Sosa came in from behind with a risky tackle but got neither the ball nor the man. Servania takes a touch to set him up and rifles the ball into the back of the net. The ref blows his whistle. Game over.
This was not the result Atlanta wanted, and it was not the result that Atlanta should have gotten. To show that much fight and grit to lead twice away from home shows just what Atlanta is about. This is the second week in a row, we blew a lead late into the second half and ended up with a draw. It’s even more disappointing because these were games Atlanta very well could have and should have won. The score lines don’t do us justice because it doesn’t show how close we were to grabbing all three points.
WHAT WE DID RIGHT
Atlanta once again showed that they wouldn't change their attacking and possessive style of football regardless of if they’re away from home or a man down. Atlanta saw plenty of the ball and created plenty of chances having more shots on target than their opponent. For most of the game, we held our composure - that is, until the last minute of the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The main issue that screams out is our lack of game management. I’m not sure if this is on the players or the lack of tactical coaching for these situations, but Atlanta struggles to hold leads and not concede under pressure. More defensive energy is needed by our midfielders so that they can shut down attacks by our opponents earlier up the pitch. Lastly, a few of our players who we need to be performing have been poor.
To name the two that come to mind - Araujo and Berry. Araujo has so much talent but has not been performing up to his level like he was last season. When he’s on his game, he’s fast, beating defenders, and creating deadly opportunities for himself and others. Despite his assist to Chol, he was rather quiet on that right side the entire game as he was the week before in New York.
Similarly, Berry came on to replace the workhorse Giakoumakis, but the quality up top significantly dropped. To be fair, he wasn’t getting plenty of services, but he still needs to prove to Pineda that he should start in that #9 role.