Playing in a cold, wet rain, Atlanta United was fortunate to hold on to a 2-2 draw with LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on Sunday.
Atlanta United goals from Pity Martinez and Julian Gressel in the first half were matched by goals from Adrien Perez and Carlos Vela in the second half for an LAFC attack that failed to take advantage of its numerous scoring chances in the final 10 minutes when fatigue became a factor. Most of the Five Stripes were playing their first stretch of 90 minutes this preseason.
“I saw some very good things, especially about the discipline and how we want to play,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said.
Atlanta United, which is 2-0-1 in preseason games involving the first team, will play one more friendly Wednesday against L.A. Galaxy before returning Thursday to Atlanta. Its primary kit unveil will be Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it will open its season Feb. 21 against Herediano in Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Champions League.
De Boer said on Friday that he was taking Sunday’s game seriously and he rolled out a strong starting 11 as proof. Brad Guzan started as goalkeeper, with Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez as the three centerbacks. The wingbacks were Gressel on the right and George Bello on the left, with Jeff Larentowicz and Eric Remedi as the central midfielders. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco flanked striker Josef Martinez.
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On defense, Atlanta United played a compact 5-4-1 that cut out the seams in the middle of the field. When the team regained possession and moved forward, the formation morphed into a 3-4-3. Sometimes, the wingbacks were part of the three men furthest forward. Sometimes, it was Pity Martinez and Barco joining Josef Martinez.
As de Boer has stressed the first three weeks of training camp, Atlanta United worked to first get into its shape on defense before it pressed. As a result, LAFC appeared to maintain a majority of possession, but had a difficult time taking advantage of that advantage.
After being under siege for first 10 minutes, Atlanta United began to take control that it would maintain for the next 40-50 minutes and grabbed a 1-0 lead on a free kick by Pity Martinez. Barco won a foul after a strong run down the left channel. Pity Martinez curled the kick into the upper left corner from 21 yards in the 18th minute for his second goal this preseason.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 in the 29th minute on a goal by Gressel, assisted by Josef Martinez. Barco was again involved, sending Josef Martinez through about 8 yards from goal. Facing a tight angle on the right side that would have made a shot difficult, Martinez played the ball back to the onrushing Gressel, who hit it with the outside of his right boot and into the opposite corner.
Atlanta United continued to control the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but de Boer bemoaned the fact that it failed to get the crucial third goal that would have likely killed the game.
“Something about that last pass, the accuracy wasn’t that good,” he said.
LAFC cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 in the 58th minute with a goal by trialist Perez. It was an odd play in which Robinson either slipped or fell down on a turf soaked by a near constant rain. Perez kept going, rounded Guzan and scored into an empty net. De Boer said he thought Robinson was tripped, but no foul was called.
After missing on at least two more good opportunities, LAFC earned the tying goal in the 82nd minute when Vela slammed a left-footed low shot into the opposite corner. De Boer wasn’t happy with the effort of his defenders on the play.
“He showed his passport and everybody let him go,” de Boer said. “That’s not the case we want to see. Somebody has to step in. No one made one charge. It can happen also during the important games, in MLS or in CONCACAF. We have to be aware so those things shouldn’t happen again.”
LAFC finished with eight shots on goal to Atlanta United’s three, and three corner kicks to Atlanta United’s one.
Overall, Atlanta United seemed pleased with what it learned about itself in its first real test this preseason.
“It’s not about results, it’s what you get out of the game,” Guzan said. “These are the games that you want. You don’t want easy games where you are winning by crazy scorelines. These are real games, real teams, real moments that ultimately make you better.”