5 observations from Atlanta United’s draw with Toronto

Credit: AP photo/Alex Slitz

Credit: AP photo/Alex Slitz

Though Atlanta United didn’t defeat Toronto in Saturday’s MLS game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, manager Gonzalo Pineda said there were many things to like from the 1-1 draw.

He said it was as close to perfect as he has seen the team play. The only blemish was the goal scored by Federico Bernardeschi in one of the few times that Toronto was able to maintain possession long enough to create an attack. That goal was answered by one from Matheus Rossetto, his first for the club. Another goal was called back for offside.

“I am very happy with the performance, but as you can imagine, we are not happy with the result,” Pineda said. “We just have to continue with the process, which I think is going well, and the team is playing very well.”

Here are five things learned:

Two questionable calls. Atlanta United was on what its supporters would consider the wrong end of two decisions by referee Nima Saghafi.

The first happened in the 71st minute when Derrick Etienne Jr. was pushed down by a Toronto defender in the 18-yard box. The contact started shoulder-to-shoulder, which is legal, but continued with the Toronto player’s left arm away from his body.

Answering a question about the incident, Saghafi wrote there was no foul.

Six minutes later, a goal scored by Giorgos Giakoumakis was taken off the board because one of the assistant referees judged JuanJo Purata to be offside on the play. Saghafi could be seen communicating with the VAR, Michael Radchuk, and upheld the offside call made by Meghan Mullen. Reviews showed that a Toronto defender may have kept Purata onside. It was a very close play. Saghafi decided not to use one of the endline monitors to review the play.

He wrote that “check complete, offside confirmed” when asked by a pool reporter about the decision.

Pineda declined to comment, other than to say he was told that “the referee is always right ... if you think it was a mistake, talk about it because I can’t.”

Etienne also declined to comment about it.

Giorgos Giakoumakis debut. The striker came off the bench and played 31 minutes. He had seven touches, completed two of three passes and had the one goal called back.

Not bad for a player who had one training session with the team before the game. His visa was completed Thursday. He flew to Atlanta from Toronto, where the visa was being worked on, Thursday night.

Giakoumakis wasn’t happy with his performance because he didn’t score.

“I demand a lot of myself,” he said. “Even if I score a hat trick, I will not be happy sometimes. I may be too egoist, and I know it’s not good, but this is me.”

Pineda said it’s too early to make any assessments of Giakoumakis.

“What he brought, though, was how he is fully committed to running inside the box to have double-movement, to counter-press, to make runs in behind, and his energy just kind of attracts some action,” Pineda said. “The goal comes from him kind of blocking a little bit of the defender from Rossetto’s shot, and his pressing is just imposing. Once again, once he starts to jell out with the other players, he is going to be great.”

Giakoumakis said he would like to start next week’s game at Charlotte, but he’s not sure yet if he can play 90 minutes. It’s been more than two months since he played a full game.

“Next week I think it is going to be totally different,” he said.

Matheus Rossetto in attack. For the past two seasons, Rossetto hasn’t done much statistically to help Atlanta United’s attack. Just one assist. No goals.

That is changing.

Rossetto was responsible for Atlanta United’s first two shots on goal against Toronto. He scored the only goal and created two chances.

After the game, he said he thinks he can score as many as 10 this season.

“... I’ve been working on attacking for a long time, and last year I was trying but was farther back on the field,” he said. “I’ve talked with Gonzalo about being a little higher, that playing higher I can score more goals and give more assists also.”

Having a player who can arrive late into the penalty box will give Atlanta United a needed target on crosses. The team put in 37 against Toronto. That was tied for third most in club history.

Rest of the attack. The stats reminded one of many of Atlanta United’s matches last season. The club dominated possession, chances created, shots, shots on target and crosses but couldn’t take the three points.

This match looked different, though.

The passing wasn’t predictable. The runs came from different spots with different end points. The shot selection was more judicious, with just six coming from outside the penalty box, compared with more than 15 last week.

“I would say this match was much, much better compared to last year,” Pineda said. “It was close to perfection in some ways, especially in terms of the active defending and not allowing (Toronto FC) clear chances. It was very good by my team being on the front foot, dictating the tempo, dominating in the final third, having numbers in the final third, creating chances in so many ways such as being in prime positions, crosses, shots from distance, shots from inside (the penalty area), set pieces, and the pressure was very good, too.”

Toronto coach Bob Bradley said his team had a difficult time dealing with Atlanta United’s pressure and counter-pressure when it lost the ball.

Defense switching off. Speaking of Atlanta United’s pressure, one of the few times it didn’t press resulted in Toronto’s goal.

Michael Bradley was given space and time to turn. He hit a long diagonal to Bernardeschi, who dribbled at Andrew Gutman. Bernardeschi cut inside to his left and hammered a left-footed shot into the lower right corner of Brad Guzan’s goal in the 52nd minute.

It was a pretty sequence by Toronto. In addition to the cutback giving Bernardeschi space, teammate Richie Laryea made an overlapping run to the right that forced Gutman to hesitate for a split second.

The shot went under Gutman’s leg, which was outstretched in an attempt to block the shot. Miles Robinson had moved over to try to cut down the angle. It’s possible that the positioning of Robinson and Gutman prevented Guzan from seeing the shot until it was too late.

“Switching off” has been a persistent problem for Atlanta United players and one that seemed not an issue against Toronto until the lack of pressure applied to Bradley.

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA