Atlanta United’s unbeaten run came to a close Wednesday night, but there was certainly no lack of energy inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The crowd was fantastic,” said captain Michael Parkhurst. “They really pushed us tonight. They were loud the whole time. They appreciated the defending (and) the effort the guys were putting in. They tried to give us that boost and honestly, I thought we had some big chances.”
Atlanta was piling on the pressure early on in the match until a first-half red card threw a wrench in the game plan and the home side had to adapt with a man disadvantage.
“But even after that we continued to press and press,” added Parkhurst. “Even with tired legs, we almost tied it up. I can't believe that one of Kevin's free kicks don't go in. We had a couple of other half chances. Just a really good effort by the guys tonight.”
Despite the loss and ejection, the players felt proud of the team performance against the Western Conference leaders. That same gratification was echoed by the man in charge.
“Peter (Vermes) is very strong in this league,” stated head coach Tata Martino. “Kansas City and Columbus have a style of play that make them among the best teams. When we were playing 11 vs. 11, I thought we were playing better than Kansas City.”
Going down a man on Wednesday night – Guzan in particular – was a massive challenge in itself as the Five Stripes goalkeeping depth has been plagued with injury recently. With Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt ruled out for the match, ATL UTD 2’s Paul Christensen signed a short-term deal to give Atlanta another option in goal. And little did he or anyone know that in the 36th minute, he’d be needed on the pitch to make his MLS debut.
“To step in, down a man, I thought he did really well,” said Parkhurst. “He communicated well. He made that big save for us early in the second half. So, kudos to him for being ready and stepping up in a tough spot.”
Not only did Christensen and the team defend heroically with ten behind the ball, but they kept their foot on the gas going forward as well, outshooting the visitors on target eight to three.
“We spoke about it at half time. We wanted to be solid defensively but also when we had our opportunities to break we wanted to do that,” said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “Luckily, we’ve got three of the better players in the league at counter attacking and creating chances with very little.”
“In the second half, we’re playing a man down and we were able to create a lot of chances and we had some counter attacks,” added Leandro González Pirez. “We were able to get forward, but I’m really proud of the way the team fought and the effort the team put in tonight.”
While they couldn’t quite find the breakthrough, the Five Stripes clearly have no shame in their efforts on Wednesday night. They’ll use that tough result as motivation and added hunger heading into Sunday’s matchup against their Southern neighbors Orlando City. You can catch that match at 6:00 p.m. EST on FS1.