It can be hard for a seasoned veteran to find themselves out of the starting lineup. An MLS Cup champion with a 15-year career behind him, full back Tyrone Mears found himself facing a new challenge.
“It has been tough being on the bench,” Mears told reporters after Saturday night’s match. “But I got the call to come on tonight. I always have to be ready. The coach told me to go forward and that is what I tried to do.”
Starter Anton Walkes has been in great defensive form ever since getting his first starting chance earlier this summer. But as the clock ticked toward the 90th minute Saturday night in Philadelphia with Atlanta United still in need of a goal, head coach Tata Martino knew he had to make a change.
“Anton (Walkes) is a natural center back,” Martino said through a translator. “We felt with them having ten men that it was better to put in Mears who is more a natural right back to create more chances.”
And create more chances he did. Mears added an immediate offensive spark to the right wing, and in stoppage time it paid off with a looping header that equalized for his side and sent Atlanta United home with a valuable road point.
“It was massive,” Mears said. “We were looking for six points from these two games [this week]. It didn’t happen and the way the game was going, we were kicking ourselves a little bit. But it was a great spirit from the guys. We kept going, and now we can look forward to a lot of games at home.”
“You can’t always choose when you score goals,” Martino said. “So the good news for us is that the guys are at least fighting. They are fighting all game.”
Atlanta United has made a knack of scoring late in games recently, with goals in the 80th minute or later in four of the past five matches to earn points that will prove vital in their playoff run. While the players admitted they would always prefer to score first, they say it’s a good sign that they keep fighting back into matches.
“It just shows how mentally tough we are that for 90 minutes we keep going,” midfielder Chris McCann said after the match. “Teams will take note of that. We are a fit bunch, so for us to go the 90 minutes shows we are never going to stop until we get what we want to achieve.”
“We look at the fighting spirit, coming back,” said Mears. “Obviously going down is difficult away from home. But you saw, we go to the end.”
Atlanta United now return to Georgia for a stretch of home games they hope will push them forward and solidify a playoff spot. But first up comes the international break, and a chance for the players to prepare themselves for a heavy stretch of matches ahead.
“We just have to stick together,” Mears said. “Maybe a little bit of a rest, getting the energy right, then we go again for a big month. We’ll look to these home games now, and I think we’re strong enough to pick up a few good results.”
Atlanta United will make their debut in Mercedes-Benz stadium against FC Dallas on September 10th. Tickets to that game are sold out, so make sure you’ve saved a spot in the brand new stadium for the next match, on September 13th against the New England Revolution. Click here to get tickets.