Goals from Nick Firmino and Jamal Thiaré led Atlanta United to a 2-0 win Saturday afternoon in sunny Tampa. With the scoreline, Atlanta United earned its first clean sheet of preseason.
The team played two 45-minute halves against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a historic franchise that originally started in 1975 in the NASL (alongside the Atlanta Chiefs) and is now a USL Championship side that plays its home matches at Al Lang Stadium where Saturday's friendly was held.
The starting XI for head coach Gonzalo Pineda:
Josh Cohen, Caleb Wiley, Derrick Williams, Stian Gregersen, Brooks Lennon (C), Bartosz Slisz, Tristan Muyumba, Nick Firmino, Saba Lobjanidze, Xande Silva, Jamal Thiaré
Tampa Bay elected not to identify some trial players, so announcers Mike Conti and Jason Longshore referred to those trialists by their jersey number on the live broadcast.
The match kicked off at 3 p.m., and early on Atlanta United found some great opportunities. One was on a set piece following some nice combo play between Caleb Wiley and Saba Lobjanidze on the left side. Lennon served a ball into the box from the right that defender Derrick Williams rose to connect with. His header called Tampa Bay Rowdies goalkeeper Jordan Farr into action and he made the save.
The Rowdies persisted in the attacking third for a few minutes around the 15th, taking a long free kick then back-to-back corner kicks. The relentless attack required two headers from Atlanta United to clear the ball away. Eventually the 5-Stripes were awarded a drop ball, which goalkeeper Josh Cohen took to send it out of danger.
Atlanta United created a good moment in the 22nd minute that started with a ball over the top to Xande Silva. The flashy winger beat a defender at the edge of the box, then split two with a dish centrally to Nick Firmino, who was setting up near the penalty spot. With defenders collapsing, Firmino had a tight window to thread his shot through and it went wide. Last year's leading goal scorer for Atlanta United 2 nearly had another chance in the 39th minute after Lennon connected with Lobjanidze. The Georgian winger made a move then crossed it to Firmino whose shot was blocked.
In the 31st minute, Jamal Thiaré was part of a 2v1 situation for Atlanta United that resulted in a shot. The striker made a move then got off a clean shot with his right foot that had too much heat on it and sailed high. A minute later, 18-year-old Noah Cobb replaced Gregersen at center back. Atlanta United had a few opportunities to close out the first half, including Cobb nearly connecting on a deflected ball but was called offside anyway, and the match remained scoreless at the halftime break.
Atlanta United opens the scoring in the second half
The 5-Stripes started the second half with the same lineup they ended the first half with one exception. Fullback Ronald Hernández entered the match as a substitute for Wiley.
Atlanta United began the half with an aggressive attack, so the opening goal felt like only a matter of time. And in the 53rd minute, Atlanta United capitalized with a poacher's goal from Firmino. Lennon sent a great cross in that bounced inside the box, Thiaré and Tristan Muyumba each getting touches, as Firmino waited patiently for it to work its way to him. Once the ball arrived at his feet, the midfielder turned nicely with a defender on his back and slotted a goal using his left foot to make it 1-0 Atlanta United.
In the 64th minute, Atlanta United doubled the lead. The play started with Xande Silva, fiercely bringing the ball up the field, refusing to be stopped by the Tampa Bay defense. Silva found Firmino who switched the ball to Lobjanidze streaking down the opposite side. Lobjanidze crossed the ball toward the far post and Thiaré timed his jump perfectly to place his header in the back of the net for a strong team goal.
At the 72nd minute, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda pulled most of his starters and sent a new group that included Quentin Westberg, Luis Abram, Dax McCarty, Matías Gallardo, Luke Brennan, Aiden McFadden, Jay Fortune and Ashton Gordon. Tyler Wolff replaced Xande Silva a few minutes earlier. Cobb and Hernández, who both subbed on earlier in the match, stayed on.
Up next - Atlanta United wraps up preseason February 17
Atlanta United will stay in Florida for the final week of preseason. The team plays a closed-door match against Sporting Kansas City next Saturday then shuts the book on preseason.
The MLS regular season kicks off February 24 in Columbus, but the party isn’t leaving Atlanta. Join us at SweetWater Brewery for the 2024 Block Party featuring the club’s opening match against the reigning MLS Champions.