Leandro Gonzalez Pirez can’t explain the pass he hit that changed Atlanta United’s fortunes against Philadelphia last week. But the result was a penalty kick that led to his team’s first goal.
Gonzalez Pirez intercepted an underhit pass by Philadelphia in the 57th minute. Moving to the ball, Gonzalez Pirez trapped it, looked up and saw Miguel Almiron moving into space on the left between Philadelphia’s centerback and fullback. Gonzalez Pirez, who is left-footed, struck the ball with the outside of his right foot. The pass was perfectly weighted, splitting two lines of Philadelphia players. Now behind the defense and bearing down on goal, Almiron ran onto it. Goalkeeper Andre Blake had little choice but to take down Almiron. Josef Martinez converted the penalty kick.
Atlanta United led 1-0 and went on to win 2-0.
The win started with that pass.
“Sometimes, I don’t have a why,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “I just do it.”
Though the pass started just on Atlanta United’s side of midfield, the inspiration can be traced back to River Plate, a club Gonzalez Pirez played for in Argentina.
Teammate Franco Escobar, who like Gonzalez Pirez grew up in Argentina, said some clubs in the country coach players to be more attack-minded. Newell’s Old Boys, the club Escobar played for before signing with Atlanta United, is one. River Plate is another. That’s where Gonzalez Pirez’s instincts to take risks were refined.
“If you take the risk and do well, you can produce an attack,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, I know.”
The pass against Philadelphia was an example. From a technical standpoint, fullback Mikey Ambrose said the pass might be difficult for others to hit. He said Gonzalez Pirez could do it again.
“It’s a great compliment to the type of player he is,” Ambrose said. “He loves to try to find those passes that can help break down a defense. When you have that in your defense it makes it really hard for the other team to defend you. At any point, when the centerbacks have the ball you can’t fall asleep.
“They can turn and really hurt you. It’s a great aspect of his game.”