Atlanta United drew 2-2 with FC Cincinnati on Decision Day, inspiring head coach Gonzalo Pineda to compliment his team on defense after going down to 10 players.
When looking at the Atlanta squad at first glance, you might think players like Miles Robinson or Luis Abram, the team’s starting center-backs, would end up getting sent off at some point in a game. Or even the likes of Tristan Muyumba or Matheus Rossetto, as they form a defensive midfield duo for the Five Stripes.
However, it was the one player most wouldn’t expect who got sent off at TQL Stadium: Thiago Almada. The 22-year-old picked up a yellow card in the first half for stopping a counter-attack for Cincinnati and was shown a second booking in the early moments of the second half after an off-the-ball challenge.
But from the 51st minute until the end of the contest, Atlanta defended valiantly and frustrated the home side with their low block that saw them earn a draw away from home. The Orange and Blue were in impeccable form at home during the regular season, as the draw was just the fourth time the Eastern Conference side failed to win at TQL Stadium.
“I wasn’t happy of course with the two silly goals we conceded, but the performance overall was inspiring. We should have had more goals in the first half, but we didn’t,” Pineda said.
“Then we suffered at the end. It was two different games really, when we were 11-v-11 and we were the better side. After that, in the 10-v-11, they had control and more territorial dominance, but what I do have to highlight from my team is that we didn’t give up any goals when they had the numerical advantage.
“We defended very well, especially inside the box when we were a man down. It’s part of the learning process. It’s encouraging and now we need to put the two parts together, the good football in the first half with the good defending inside the box in the second half. That’s a good combination for the playoffs.”
The former Seattle Sounders assistant coach explained that his team fell asleep when they conceded the two goals, which came after they took the lead on both occasions.
“On those two goals it was poor defending. We talked about that at halftime. We need to do better,” added the coach.
“We have to match the runners inside the box, not be zonal in a sense there. But we also need to do defend those types of crosses better. The first one, we were broken down on the right side and were out of position. It was a good cross there as well, credit to Cincinnati. But on the second one we have to defend better. We can’t allow that amount of space at the top of the box to someone as talented as [Alvaro] Barreal, so we need to work on that for sure.”
Atlanta finished the regular season in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 51 points and will now prepare for their best-of-three series in MLS Cup playoffs against Columbus Crew. The Five Stripes travel to Lower.com Field for game one on November 1 in what should be an entertaining series between the two teams.
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