Atlanta United earns a wild 2-2 draw with Nashville

Atlanta United coach Gabriel Heinze, right, reacts to a play as Nashville SC defender Nick Hinds, left, and Atlanta defender George Bello (21) vie for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta United coach Gabriel Heinze, right, reacts to a play as Nashville SC defender Nick Hinds, left, and Atlanta defender George Bello (21) vie for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Atlanta United started Thursday’s game without a Designated Player in its starting 11.

It finished with a team-record four Homegrown players among its 10 remaining on the field.

In between was one of the dumber plays you may ever see in a soccer game, as well as a red card given on what appeared to be a fine tackle.

But it finished with Atlanta United (2-3-7) hampered by one player, Erick Torres, sustaining at least one brain-lock, and another, Jake Mulraney, being sent off after a good tackle, in a 2-2 draw at Nashville.

Anton Walkes and Jackson Conway scored for Atlanta United.

The team, decimated by injuries, is winless in its past seven games for the first time in franchise history but it may have found a precious spark missing for most of the season.

And that spark came from a collection of players, most of whom wouldn’t be penciled into a starting 11 by anyone at the beginning of the season.

“What my players showed me today is something that we’ve asked for from the start,” manager Gabriel Heinze said. “They showed me that they put their heads down. They were not afraid to play with or without the ball. Even when we were losing, they kept trying and fighting.”

Heinze gambled with his formation and personnel for the game because he didn’t have many choices. He handed Homegrown signing Tyler Wolff his second start, and Homegrown signing Machop Chol his first. Additionally, Heinze switched to a back three formation that worked well in the second half against the Red Bulls two weeks ago but wasn’t used in the 3-0 loss at Chicago last week. In addition to Wolff and Chol, the lineup included Alec Kann, making his first start in a league game in three years, in goal in place of Brad Guzan, Walkes, Santiago Sosa and Alex De John, who was in for Miles Robinson, at centerback. The wingbacks were Brooks Lennon and Mulraney, in for George Bello. The midfielders were Wolff, Mo Adams, Marcelino Moreno, with Torres and Chol up top.

Unavailable for selection because of injuries, recovering from injuries, or international call-ups were striker Josef Martinez, centerback Alan Franco, midfielders Emerson Hyndman, Jurgen Damm, Matheus Rossetto, Ezequiel Barco, Guzan, Robinson, and Bello.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute on a goal by Walkes, his second this season. It came on a free kick won by Moreno about 30 yards from goal after he made a long run with the ball from Atlanta United’s third of the field and into Nashville’s third. The free kick was taken by Mulraney, who put a looping cross toward the back post. Walkes, the team’s captain for the first time, got in front of his defender to put a header back across goal. It was Walkes’ second goal this season.

“It just happened,” Walkes said. “I know the areas where the guys aim for. Me and Jake had one of those yesterday (in training).”

Nashville tied the game at 1 in the 14th minute on a header by Jalil Anibaba, who was left unmarked on a corner kick by Sosa.

As if Atlanta United’s injury list wasn’t long enough, Adams was forced off in the 22nd minute after twice going down to the turf. Trainers appeared to be looking at his left thigh. Adams underwent surgery for a sports hernia during the offseason. George Campbell, another Homegrown signing, came on as a centerback with Sosa moving into Adams’ role as defensive midfielder. It was Campbell’s second appearance for the team in an MLS game.

Atlanta United got another piece of bad news in the 45th minute when Sosa received a yellow card after committing a foul in a non-threatening situation. That yellow card was his fifth this season and as a result he will miss next week’s game against New England.

Nashville grabbed a 2-1 lead on a penalty kick won because Torres inexplicably used his hand to swat away a free kick in the 47th minute. There was no player near Torres and it wasn’t clear the free kick would have been on goal. Instead, Hany Mukhtar got a chance at the penalty kick and converted it in the 48th minute. Heinze said he didn’t ask Torres why he chose to punch the ball. Walkes said he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Torres but was going to ask him why he did that. He said it was probably just an instinctive reaction.

Heinze quickly pulled Torres off and put in Conway in the 53rd minute.

Nashville had a goal called back a minute later because, after a review, scorer CJ Sapong was judged to be offside.

Conway quickly made an impact with a headed goal in the 59th minute to tie the game at 2. It came on a corner kick. Conway was at the back post. He drifted a few yards back and headed the ball into the lower right corner. It may have been his first touch, which is how he scored his first goal for Atlanta United against Club America in last year’s Champions League.

Conway said the double-move that gave him the space to get off the header is something that Heinze and Martinez have spoken to him about.

“Every time I’ve played I try to make the most out of it,” he said. “My parents were here at the game. It’s a short career. You have to do what you have to do.”

Nashville had another goal taken off the board because of offside in the 62nd minute. It was also scored on a corner kick.

Mulraney was given a red card in the 75th minute after what appeared to be a solid tackle near the top of the penalty box. Mulraney got the ball and then Mukhtar went over his legs. Mulraney was forced into the tackle after Sosa was beaten by Mukhtar into the space. The red card, if not appealed and overturned, means that Mulraney will also miss next week’s game against New England. Heinze said that the referee told him that Mulraney didn’t touch the ball. Mulraney clearly touched the ball.

PRO, which manages the referees, wrote in response to a question about the red card: “Jake Mulraney committed a foul by tackling the opponent, denying him an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

“The VAR checked the incident and did not identify a clear and obvious error.”

About the Author