Atlanta United

Atlanta United have something to build on after New York double-header

Chris Smith
Atlanta United showed fortitude against NYCFC.
Atlanta United showed fortitude against NYCFC. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

They may have only left with a single point, but there's definitely a case to view Atlanta United's two-game trip to New York in a positive light.

The Five Stripes largely outplayed the New York Red Bulls - now top of the East - in midweek, even taking the lead through Josef Martinez's 75th-minute strike. Of course, Atlanta would succumb to their now customary lapses in concentration to concede twice in the final 10 minutes, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in a match where they dominated 58% possession and had four shots on target compared to three from their hosts.

Atlanta then went toe-to-toe with defending MLS Cup champions NYCFC on Sunday, creating a number of chances before another defensive mishap allowed Valentin Castellanos to open the scoring on 37 minutes. Martinez leveled after the break, but Atlanta allowed NYC back in front just 90 seconds later.

This time, however, the Five Stripes had a response, with Dom Dwyer netting an equalizer just two minutes after coming onto the field. Atlanta found a late goal to take a point after allowing two during the week to leave empty handed.

All of that comes off the back of a run that included defeats to the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC which were some of Atlanta United's worst performances of the campaign.

"We just hit the halfway point of the season and we need to build out this momentum from these last two performances," Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda told reporters following Sunday's draw at Yankee Stadium. "Today is a valuable point, the performance against Red Bulls was encouraging."

Sunday also saw Atlanta United's front four of Josef Martinez, Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almada, and Marcelino Moreno take to the field for the first time. Though injuries elsewhere mean they're limited defensively and when trying to play out of the back, the difference in attack was palpable, with the visitors proving a menace on the break.

It was Almada's perfect ball that set up Martinez's diving header for the equalizer, while Araujo and Moreno terrorized the NYCFC defense with a combined seven shots and six successful dribbles.

Pineda also had the luxury of bringing on forwards Ronaldo Cisneros and Dom Dwyer from the bench and it was this duo that combined to force the late equalizer; the former picking out the latter, who scored with his first touch of the game.

"I feel like I have enough attacking power," said Pineda. On the rest of his team, he added: "It’s whether we are a little bit more solid defensively, keep a couple more clean sheets and we will be getting points for sure."

The likes of Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson, and Ozzie Alonso are out long-term. However, Atlanta United have help on the way in the form of Mexico international goalkeeper Raul Gudiño and center-back Juan Jose Purata.

This pair of strong performances also come ahead of a three-game homestand against Austin FC, Real Salt Lake, and Orlando City, with Atlanta United losing just once at Mercedes-Benz Stadium so far this season.

There were still imperfections and Pineda must do something to address the seemingly weak mentality and defensive fortitude of his team. But backup is coming, the front four is finally together, and performances are improving.

Can the Five Stripes turn all that into the winning soccer the club's spending warrants?