If the objective for Atlanta in its remaining home matches is to get goals and play on the front foot, then the club is off to a strong start.
Atlanta United beat Orlando City on Friday to a score of 3-0, giving Gonzalo Pineda his first victory as head coach. Not only did Atlanta pick up three points, the team played a dynamic, vertical style of football dressed in the false nine formation that looked fast and fluid – attacking elements that Pineda has expressed wanting to finesse with his young squad.
“The possession was very good,” Pineda said in his postgame press conference. “It was the type of possession that I want, which is playing forward, breaking lines and trying to create chances. So, I’m very pleased with the way they applied all the tactics.”
Atlanta owned 55 percent of the possession against Orlando and took 18 shots with five on goal.
The first goal of the night came when defender George Campbell knocked in a header past a diving Adam Grinwis in the 25th minute. The assist from midfielder Marcelino Moreno on service from a short corner kick led to Campbell’s first career goal in MLS.
“It was amazing,” Campbell said. “Even better because it was my mom's birthday today, and I told her I'd score for her. So it was really amazing for me."
Luiz Araújo opened the night with a fierce, curling strike in the fourth minute that clanged off the post. From that point on, Atlanta had the no. 2 team in the eastern conference on its heels.
“What we saw today was a very dangerous player, an attacking player,” Pineda said. “Sometimes when he doesn’t even touch the ball he creates many gaps for his teammates. And that’s what I love about Luiz is that he’s always on the move and he’s always trying to go for a goal.”
Araújo was part of an electric attack that manifested the components of crossing, finishing and confidence in the midfield that Pineda emphasized during training this week. Atlanta's attacking players were on the giving and receiving ends of through balls, crossed the ball from one side of the field to the other with pace and produced plenty of quality chances. Early in the first half, Araújo led a beautiful combination that resulted in a cross inside the box that midfielder Ezequiel Barco brought down with a touch and left for Moreno to take a shot at goal. Midfielder Matheus Rossetto, who had a nearly perfect night completing 45-of-46 passes, created some chances including a drive in the ninth minute that required a diving save.
Two goals came by way of Barco. The first on a free kick in the 38th minute that was deflected and recorded as an own goal. Then later in the 72nd minute, Barco dribbled away from three Orlando defenders inside the box to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead and defender Brooks Lennon his fifth assist of the season.
“It’s a reward for Barco because I felt not just the offensive part but the defensive part was great,” Pineda said. “That tells me a lot of where Barco is mentally and physically with the team.”
The World Cup Qualifiers left Atlanta without Josef Martínez, Ronald Hernández and Miles Robinson for this match, but the club also saw several key players return. Midfielders Jake Mulraney and Santiago Sosa made the starting lineup after missing a few games due to injuries. Defender George Bello also returned from his international call-up and came onto the pitch as a sub in the 59th minute.
It’s a credit to the Atlanta defense that they were able to limit Nani and Orlando’s attack. Orlando City had just eight shots, their best opportunity coming in the 78th minute off a strike from forward Silvester van der Water. The shutout gave goalkeeper Brad Guzan his sixth clean sheet of the season.
“The players deserve every single part of the victory,” Pineda said. “I felt they did an amazing job. They worked very hard the last few weeks, and this is a reward for them.”
The first Friday home match in club history brought a loud, rowdy crowd of over 42,507 fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to witness Pineda’s first win with the club. Atlanta's next two matches are both at home. It hosts FC Cincinnati on Wednesday and D.C. United on September 18.
“This is a reward for the fans, which I really like the connection we’ve made with them,” Pineda said. “They were cheering for us in every single moment. And that’s very important for me.”