Atlanta United earns steamy draw with St. Louis

Atlanta United forward Daniel Ríos #19 taking a touch on the ball during the match against the St. Louis City SC at CITYPARK in St. Louis, MO on Saturday June 22, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Daniel Ríos #19 taking a touch on the ball during the match against the St. Louis City SC at CITYPARK in St. Louis, MO on Saturday June 22, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

ST. LOUIS - On a Saturday night hot enough to toast ravioli, Atlanta United rallied to tie St. Louis 1-1 at City Park, extending its unbeaten streak to four on the road.

The Five Stripes continued to build momentum following Wednesday’s win at D.C. United with Daniel Rios scoring the tying goal.

Missing several starters, notably Thiago Almada, Atlanta United’s offense put itself in good spots but didn’t create many sparks in the 85-degree temperature at kickoff. St. Louis had a goal disallowed and a handball claim turned away. But the draw ensured that Atlanta United (5-8-6) remained above the playoff line in ninth place in the East. It improved to 2-3-4 away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where it will host Toronto in its next match on June 29.

“Before the game, and even going into the road trip, we talked about some things, and I saw that out there,” interim manager Rob Valentino said. “And yeah, we bent a little bit, but we never broke. And I think that I hope that this carries us a long way. It wasn’t pretty. It’s not exactly how we want to see games. But these are two opponents that play in a way that make it really difficult. And I think to answer your question, yeah, I am proud. I am proud of them.”

Those three things were persistence, commitment and relentlessness.

Valentino, who is unbeaten in three matches since being named interim manager, kept the same back five for the match that he used on Wednesday at D.C. United but threw in a wrinkle with the inclusion of two strikers, Rios and Jamal Thiare. The back five was composed of Derrick Williams, Noah Cobb, Efrain Morales, Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon. The midfield included Tristan Muyumba, Jay Fortune and Xande Silva. The lineup included four Homegrowns and no Designated Players. Almada wasn’t eligible because of yellow card accumulation. Atlanta United was also without starters Saba Lobjanidze, Bartosz Slisz and Luis Abram, who were with their national teams competing in their continental championships. Stian Gregersen, a Designated Player, made the bench. Atlanta United is 2-5-4 in its history when it doesn’t start a DP.

Rios said the heat and humidity made for a difficult match. During the game, he said St. Louis players were saying it was rarely as steamy as it was Saturday.

St. Louis thought it had taken a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute. Referee Filip Dujic and his assistant referee indicated no-goal but it wasn’t clear if it was because of an offside, a foul earlier on a St. Louis player, or a foul earlier than that Muyumba. After a review, Dujic ruled that Eduard Loewen had fouled Muyumba, which resulted in St. Louis getting the ball and starting its attack.

Fortune said Guzan told them in the locker room that if they can’t win, they won’t lose.

Gregersen subbed on for Morales to start the second half. It was Gregersen’s first appearance since June 2 against Charlotte. Gregersen received a yellow card within a minute for a hard challenge from behind on Joao Klauss.

St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute on a goal by Indiana Vassilev. Klauss outjumped Lennon at the backpost to reach a cross. Vassilev reached the ball before Wiley and sliced a left-footed shot into the lower right corner.

Valentino said part of him was curious to see how the players would respond to falling behind.

“I talked to them a lot about when they’re on the road, just block out the noise,” Valentino said. “The only noise that matters is the noise inside our own head, inside our four walls. When it happened, I tried to keep telling them, ‘close your ears, close your ears.’ "

A sliding block by Cobb in the 57th minute stopped Atlanta United from going down 2-0 as St. Louis started putting Atlanta United under more pressure.

Atlanta United started to fight back.

Fortune hit the post in the 59th minute with a shot from 24 yards. A Thiare header from a corner kick was saved a minute later. Dax McCarty subbed on for Thiare in the 61st minute because Valentino said St. Louis was starting to have success up the middle so he wanted to put on another midfielder.

“I felt like we were getting cut off too much in the middle and it was not working,” Valentino said.

Silva became the second striker and Fortune and Muyumba became dual attacking midfielders. A Rios shot was tipped over the crossbar in the 67th minute.

“We wanted to try to counter and hit them in transition,” Valentino said.

Atlanta United earned a penalty kick in the 69th minute when Gregersen was tackled by Nokkvi Thorisson in the 18-yard box.

Rios took the penalty. His first shot, low, slow and to the right, was saved by Roman Buerki. But Rios got to the loose ball before anyone else and punched it in to tie the match at 1 in the 71st minute. It was Rios’ third goal this season.

“On the road was always difficult for us in the past,” Fortune said. “And I think to win our last two on the road before this game, and to walk away with at least a draw after being behind, shows the character that the team’s developing.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 Atlanta United 3, Miami 1

June 2 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 2

June 15 Atlanta United 2, Houston 2

June 19 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

June 22 Atlanta United 1, St. Louis 1

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 9 vs. Indy Eleven in U.S. Open Cup

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.