Good and bad of Atlanta United’s victory against Pachuca

Atlanta United players celebrate after the match against Pachuca on Tuesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta United players celebrate after the match against Pachuca on Tuesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Atlanta United improved to 4-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against teams from LIGA MX with Tuesday’s 3-2 victory against Pachuca to win the inaugural American Family Insurance Cup.

It was a performance that exemplified the MLS team’s season as it now turns its attention to the resumption of league play Sunday at home against Miami.

“Honestly, I was very pleased with the attitude, the effort, the football that they played (Tuesday night),” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “It is something to build into for the next game with Miami.”

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Here are the good and bad from the victory, secured by goals from Josef Martinez, Luiz Araujo and Dom Dwyer, who scored the winning goal.

The good

Martinez. He looked as lively and as dangerous as he did before suffering his knee injury in the first game of the 2020 season. In addition to opening the scoring, he assisted on Araujo’s goal and found spots in Pachuca’s defense to take three more shots from close range. He didn’t put any on frame, but that he found those pockets is a positive sign. He looked much quicker than in the season’s first five games. He then underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in early April.

“His knee wasn’t 100%,” Pineda said. “I’m positive about it. I remember last year I was telling you Josef is a warrior, it’s because I was seeing him play in pain. Now he feels much better. Now he is again back 100% physically, so now he can put this type of performances that was very good not only on the soccer side but also as a leader.”

Rocco Rios Novo. In his first start this season in goal, the 20-year-old exceeded expectations and now will be in the conversation to take the starting spot from Bobby Shuttleworth, according to Pineda. There wasn’t much Rocco Rios Novo could do to stop either of Pachuca’s goals.

“I liked many aspects of the game,” Rios Novo said. “There are many things to improve, like always. At the moment I’m not analyzing them, but I will (Wednesday) more calmly when I’m at home. But I’m happy for the victory, the performance of the team, and hopefully we continue like that.”

Marcelino Moreno and Ronaldo Cisneros. Thiago Almada didn’t start as the team’s attacking midfielder because he will start a three-game suspension Sunday. Instead, Marcelino Moreno shifted to attacking midfielder and Ronaldo Cisneros moved from striker to the left wing. Moreno was very active. His work on defense and then with the ball in transition led to Atlanta United’s first goal. He continually pushed the team vertically when it had chances to counterattack. Cisneros looked natural on the wing. It’s a position he trained for at his parent club, Chivas, and in the past weeks with Atlanta United.

“I got to play with Josef, and that’s a blessing for me,” Cisneros said. “I’ve always said he’s a great player, very intelligent and with a lot of quality. He’s a reference for this club and my teammates who also have a lot of quality and today showed that. We created a lot of chances, especially in the first half, and this win gives us confidence against a team like Pachuca that reached the final of LIGA MX.”

Emerson Hyndman. Emerson Hyndman made his first start this season. The team has brought the central midfielder along slowly after he underwent knee surgery in the summer of 2021.

“He’s a fantastic connector,” Pineda said. “Obviously, he needs more rhythm, more games, more minutes ... But I think it was a very, very solid performance. And I didn’t know him also defensively. So in a real game, kind of with a lot of minutes, he was pretty good. The offensive movements were very good. So that gives me a lot of confidence to put him again on the field.”

The rest. Pineda said he also was pleased with Santiago Sosa, who played in the second half despite having a fever Monday. Pineda said that is why Sosa didn’t play many minutes against Pachuca. Pineda also said he appreciated efforts of some of the players who were brought up from Atlanta United 2: Aiden McFadden, Noah Cobb, Ajani Fortune, Erik Centeno and Raimar.

The bad

Set pieces. Pachuca’s first goal was scored on a corner kick. It was the ninth goal allowed this season by Atlanta United on a set piece. It was a well-taken kick and header. Atlanta United spent portions of the previous two weeks working on its set-piece defending.

Concentration. The second goal came when Franco Ibarra, who lost his marker on the first goal, was dispossessed about 20 yards from goal. Rios Novo saved the first shot but couldn’t do anything about the second. Concentrating for 90 minutes was another point of focus for the team in training and continues to be an issue.

“I felt that at times we showed the quality that we want to show with very good plays, very good chances,” Pineda said. “But again, with a little bit of the same, we concede a set-piece goal, and the morale of the team starts to go down, and then we concede another one in a transition moment. Those are the moments that we have to use as lessons for us.”

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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 vs. Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug. 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