Atlanta United finds scoring but some issues persist

Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino on the sideline during the first half of the match against the Houston Dynamo FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday June 15, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino on the sideline during the first half of the match against the Houston Dynamo FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday June 15, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Among the concerns for Atlanta United heading into the Rob Valentino era was where would the goals come from.

Valentino, promoted after the firing of Gonzalo Pineda, took over a squad that is selling its leading scorer, Giorgos Giakoumakis, and for the next few matches will be without second-leading scorer Saba Lobjanidze, who is playing for Georgia at the Euros.

The team may have gotten some answers in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Houston at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Striker Daniel Rios, considered third-string earlier this season, started and scored Atlanta United’s first goal. Winger Xande Silva, starting for the first time since May 25, scored the second from a tight angle. It was the second goals scored by both players this season.

It wasn’t the net-ripping Atlanta United of old, but it was a start.

“It is good, we are united,” Rios said. “We are aware of the situation and the circumstances, and we are fighting to do better. We know that this season is a long one and we are at the halfway point, so hopefully we can turn this around and get back into a position where we can make the playoffs and become strong contenders to be at the top.”

The team may have also found another spark with the play of Homegrown signing Luke Brennan, who made his second appearance in a league match.

Brennan subbed into the match in the 18th minute because starter Edwin Mosquera suffered a yet-to-be-announced injury and immediately started to get under the skin of Houston’s players with his quickness and combativeness. Two Houston players were given yellow cards for fouls against Brennan.

Brennan’s interplay with Thiago Almada and Rios resulted in the team’s first goal.

“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, and I’m happy to get it,” he said. “So, I just came on and we were losing, so I just wanted to get on my defender as much as I could.”

Brennan had Atlanta United’s final chance to win the match when he jumped in front of Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark to reach a ball bouncing in the box. Stuck in a tight space just a few feet from goal, Brennan’s right-footed chip went over the crossbar.

“I wish I could have that back,” Brennan said. It was Brennan’s only shot in the match. Atlanta United finished with 11 shots and expected goals of 2.34.

Valentino complimented Brennan after the match for his ability to come into the match with little warning and be impactful.

Because of Mosquera’s injury, Lobjanidze’s absence and Tyler Wolff is recovering from a knee injury, Brennan is likely to start Wednesday’s match against D.C. United.

“Kudos to him for coming into a tough situation, and it is a really good message for the locker room too,” Valentino said. “You never know when your moment is going to come, and they can say, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I have heard this before,’ but that rang true tonight. I wish he could have capped it off by putting away that last chance, but he should be proud of himself.”

While a source of goals was new information, some season-long issues were reaffirmed. Atlanta United gave up a goal on a set-piece for the sixth time this season. It gave up the tying goal in the 89th minute when all it needed to do was keep its focus a few minutes longer.

Valentino said he was proud that the team fought back after giving up the first goal but disappointed that it didn’t get all three points.

“You see some glimpses, and I think that’s natural, of where we should really be at and where we have to go get better, but there is grit there,” he said. “We talked after our first session together about how I’m not going to mention intensity needing to be better anymore because that is a prerequisite, and they know that, but now it is about getting better and continuing to progress in other areas.”

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

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

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.