Luiz Araujo scores 2 as Atlanta United plays Chattanooga to draw

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — There were no injuries and a lot of goals, and there will be a lot of work to do for Atlanta United after it opened its 2023 preseason with a 3-3 draw in a friendly at Chattanooga on Saturday.

Wearing black arm bands to honor former teammate Anton Walkes, who was killed last week in a boating accident in South Florida, Atlanta United’s offense was led by Luiz Araujo, who scored two goals in the first half. Machop Chol scored the other. They were offset by three goals scored by Chattanooga, all in the first half against Atlanta United’s first-teamers, none particularly well-defended. The announced attendance was 7,513 at Finley Stadium.

“We were working specifically on the defensive side of things, and we didn’t show well,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “So obviously, we will correct that. We talked about that already in the locker room. But there were some multiple good things.”

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Pineda said he was pleased with the team’s offensive movements that were different than the ones used last season, when the team failed to make the playoffs.

“I’m happy with the attacking side in some ways, but not happy with the defending side,” Pineda said.

Among the other highlights were the return of goalkeeper Brad Guzan and centerback Miles Robinson from Achilles ruptures sustained last season. Not playing Saturday were Thiago Almada, Amar Sejdic and Edwin Mosquera, who were held out as precautions. Pineda said their injuries aren’t serious. The rest of the starting lineup featured Jackson Conway at striker, with Araujo and Chol flanking him on the wings, Santiago Sosa, Matheus Rossetto and Franco Ibarra in the midfield, Brooks Lennon and Andrew Gutman as the fullbacks and JuanJo Purata beside Robinson at centerback.

“It’s been a long nine months; it’s been a long journey,” Guzan said. “So to be back out there, regardless of the performance, was a step in the right direction.”

Atlanta United fell behind 1-0 in the seventh minute when Guzan, hustling to stop a ball from crossing the end line for a corner, instead saw it bounce off his hands and to Chattanooga’s Alex Hernandez, who was in front of him on the end line. Hernandez crossed it to teammate Markus Naglestad, who was open 6 yards from goal.

“Nine months of rust coming off in about seven minutes,” Guzan said. “So hopefully that’s the last blunder we have.”

Gutman won a penalty kick in the 11th minute when he was taken down in the box. Araujo converted the penalty with a shot down the middle.

Atlanta United took a 2-1 lead in the 20th minute on a goal by Chol, who didn’t have to do too much. Araujo dribbled in the box, was challenged by two Chattanooga defenders and the goalkeeper. He slammed into all three. The ball bounced to Chol, who needed only to pass it into the goal from 10 yards away.

Chattanooga equalized in the 28th minute. It was again Naglestad, who dribbled past a sliding Lennon and put in a shot from a tight angle. It was a good finish but a soft goal to allow.

Araujo scored his second, and gave Atlanta United a 3-2 lead in the 42nd minute, when he stole the ball from a Chattanooga defender in the box and easily scored. Atlanta United was pressing Chattanooga, which forced the turnover.

“It was positive to score goals,” Araujo said. “Obviously we can be a little bit better at the back, but we’re just getting started, and we’re definitely going to improve.”

Chattanooga tied the score at 3-3 two minutes later on a goal by Alex McGrath. He received the ball after Damian Rodriguez brushed off tackle attempts by Chol and Gutman on the right wing, got to the end line and passed it back into the mouth of the goal.

Pineda said he was upset with the team at halftime, but watching the new 11 playing the second half made him happier. That group included Ronald Hernandez, Noah Cobb, Aiden McFadden and Quentin Westberg. The rest of the players were from either Atlanta United 2 or the team’s academy. Pineda said he appreciated their enthusiasm.

Pineda didn’t seem concerned that twice Chattanooga scored within minutes of Atlanta United scoring. That was a problem last season, too.

“We will get better; we will get better,” he said. “Also, there were some heavy legs. We’ve been training very hard. So we understand all of that.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m.

March 4 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

March 11 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA