Atlanta United’s young players come through in draw

Nashville SC midfielder Randall Leal (8) and Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff collide while going for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Caption
Nashville SC midfielder Randall Leal (8) and Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff collide while going for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Some of Atlanta United’s less experienced players have “totalmente” earned a right to more playing time, manager Gabriel Heinze said after Thursday’s 2-2 draw at Nashville.

“... the most important thing for me is the players who are not used to playing, they performed like they were with the group before,” he said. “What they did is something very important in my profession as a coach.”

The team finished with a record four Homegrown signings on the pitch. One, 20-year-old Jackson Conway, scored the game-tying goal in his third appearance this season. Another, 20-year-old centerback George Campbell, was forced on for only his second appearance with the first team after Mo Adams left with an injury in the first half. Two more, 22-year-old winger Machop Chol, and 19-year-old midfielder Tyler Wolff, started. It was Chol’s third appearance and first start and Wolff’s second consecutive start.

“It was like Academy United out there tonight,” Conway said. “It’s awesome seeing those guys I came through the academy with together.”

There were reasons that the team skewed so young, or inexperienced, Thursday: The team was missing as many as seven starters because of injuries or they were recovering from injuries.

The young players performed well. Conway filled up his line on the stat sheet with the one goal on the one shot. He also created a chance, had a tackle, was fouled once and committed one foul. His goal came on a double-movement that created enough space between himself and his defender that he could put a clean strike on a header into the lower corner. Conway said that’s something that Heinze and Josef Martinez taught him to do.

“He understood what we trained,” Heinze said. “He was not afraid to play, and he wanted to help the team. I told you guys he was playing better and better with the team.”

Wolff was a steady if unspectacular presence in the midfield, with three tackles and two fouls conceded. Chol kept Nashville’s centerbacks from coming too far forward because he showed the pace to get by them and caused trouble on set pieces with his size. Campbell, forced into duty when Mo Adams left with an injury, also was steady as part of his back three, and attempted a few Miles Robinson-like long passes.

The team stats Thursday weren’t that much different than the team’s previous games. Atlanta United remains winless in its past seven, a club record. Its two goals scored brings its total to 13 in 12 games, not quite the offensive juggernaut promoted when Heinze was hired. It took only six shots to Nashville’s 17 and put just two on goal compared with Nashville’s eight. It created just five chances, compared with Nashville’s 10.

But this group, one of the few times this season, showed fight. The team, in its history, was 6-12-8 on the road when the score was tied at halftime.

“They showed me that they put their heads down,” Heinze said. “They were not afraid to play with or without the ball. Even when we were losing, they kept trying and fighting.”

Heinze will have decisions to make with the team’s lineup when it hosts New England, which is atop the Eastern Conference.

Martinez should be healthy enough to start at striker in place of Conway or Chol. Conway said he thinks he deserves to start, but that it is up to Heinze. Franco may be well enough to slot in at centerback in place of either Alex de John or Campbell. Wolff could be replaced by Matheus Rossetto, who has missed most of the season with undisclosed injuries.

“Totalmente” may be put to the test.

“We are in a bad moment with everything that happened to us,” Heinze said. “The result is something that right now we can’t analyze. What my players showed me today is something I’ve been asking them since we started. I would tell you the same even if we lost the game because of what they put on the field today.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE