Atlanta United plays well but falls 2-1 to the Red Bulls

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

HARRISON, N.J. -- Atlanta United finally scored but two mistakes resulted in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Thursday at Red Bull Arena.

It was the Five Stripes’ first goal in their seventh regular-season game at the site.

Atlanta United (5-7-4), which had won just two of its previous 10 league games, controlled the match until the final minutes. It limited the Red Bulls to just one shot on goal through the first 80 minutes and negated its famed pressure with solid tactics and formational discipline, which it hasn’t shown consistently this season.

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Atlanta United was 10 minutes away from a performance and result that would boost its confidence and perhaps turn around the season. Instead, it was a deflating defeat because, as has been the case most of the season, two critical mistakes -- one by Caleb Wiley and the other by Alex de John -- resulted in both of the Red Bulls’ goals. The winner was scored in the 89th minute.

Josef Martinez, who came on as a second-half sub, scored Atlanta United’s goal by toe-poking in a loose ball just a few feet from goal in the 75th minute. It was offset by a penalty kick scored in the 83rd minute by Lewis Morgan and another by Serge Ngoma with one minute remaining in regulation.

“Losing a game like this is heartbreaking,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “Because it’s one of those that hurts a lot because of the way we played. But this is football. We know there are many different ways to win games and to lose games. Today we lost because of probably two specific plays with lack of concentration and we accept that as well as we accept the good performances and the victories. But it’s very tough, it’s very tough this game.”

Knowing his team has another game at NYCFC on Sunday, Pineda went with a surprising starting 11 that didn’t include Martinez and Marcelino Moreno, who were on the bench because of load management. Instead, the team went with three centerbacks, George Campbell, de John and Alan Franco, with Aiden McFadden and Wiley as the wingbacks. The midfield featured Matheus Rossetto, Franco Ibarra and Amar Sejdic with Luiz Araujo and Ronaldo Cisneros as dual strikers. Rocco Rios Novo started in goal.

Atlanta United dominated possession but it didn’t turn into anything that threatened the Red Bulls’ goal. However, by keeping the ball it also prevented the Red Bulls from attacking and after the opening 10 minutes they also stopped pressing as aggressively as they did in the game’s opening minutes. Neither team put a shot on goal Araujo forced a diving save in the 32nd minute. The Red Bulls’ first shot on goal came in the 41st minute. It was a tame header saved by Rios Novo.

Pineda chose to play the wingbacks high and wide, and when the team had the ball, he wanted it switched back across the field. It worked. Atlanta United frequently broke the Red Bulls’ pressure and their lines. Pineda said he wishes the team was a little more aggressive when it had advantages and really push the ball forward.

New York 2, Atlanta United 1

Atlanta United’s Ibarra received a yellow card near the end of the first half. It was his fifth this season, which means he is suspended for Sunday’s game. However, Thiago Almada will return from his three-game suspension after he received a red card after the Columbus match.

Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber brought on Tom Barlow and Luquinhas in an attempt to spark his team’s offense in the 57th minute. It had put just one of its seven shots on goal.

Pineda countered with Martinez for Cisneros in the 63rd minute and Emerson Hyndman for Sejdic in the 73rd minute.

Martinez proved a smart sub with his goal, which sent his teammates into a celebration six years in the making. Rios Novo ran more than half the length of the field to celebrate.

“I think our goal, it was a big relief,” Rios Novo said. “Because we’re playing well, the only thing we’re missing was the goal. So I ran to to our bench to celebrate it with our players and it was a moment of a lot of happiness.”

Martinez’s goal was undone by a penalty kick called against Wiley for an unnecessary challenge in the penalty box in the 81st minute. Morgan converted the penalty to tie the game. It was the Red Bulls’ second shot on goal.

Pineda said he can’t blame the 17-year-old Wiley. He said with youth will come mistakes.

“With Caleb specifically, I will say that I will show the many, many good things that he does, the many good actions that he does, and obviously trying to analyze why he went on the ground in a play that probably he didn’t need to go on the ground,” Pineda said.

That was followed by a turnover by de John in Atlanta United’s defensive third. Ngoma had only Rios Novo to beat.

“I think that’s just soccer,” Rios Novo said. “You see it all the time in this game. You know, it can happen to us, it can happen to Real Madrid as well where they are they’re able to turn around a lot of results in matches. So whether you’re playing well or not, there’s always chances that you know the score can be turned around on you.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE