Late goal earns Atlanta United a draw with Memphis

Atlanta United midfielder Bartosz Slisz #6 during the first half of the match against Memphis 901 FC at Turner Sports Complex in Athens, GA on Saturday February 3, 2024. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United

Credit: Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United midfielder Bartosz Slisz #6 during the first half of the match against Memphis 901 FC at Turner Sports Complex in Athens, GA on Saturday February 3, 2024. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United)

ATHENS — Jamal Thiare’s first goal for Atlanta United secured a 1-1 draw with Memphis on Saturday at the Turner Soccer Complex.

Thiare scored in the 90th minute, capping a friendly that the Five Stripes dominated. Atlanta United outshot bunkering Memphis 19-4 and finished with 10 corner kicks to the visitors’ one.

The game didn’t look or feel like a friendly. Thirty-one fouls were called, and several times a referee had to step between quarreling players.

“It was competitive,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And it was the type of game that is going to help us to be mentally better on the road. So yeah, in that sense, it worked a little bit. But obviously we didn’t win. I cannot say ‘good job.’ We had multiple chances, I would say we should have won this one. We didn’t, so of course, I’m going to talk to them on Monday about it.”

Atlanta United’s starting 11 consisted of striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, attacking midfielder Nicolas Firmino, wingers Xande Silva and Saba Lobjanidze, midfielders Tristan Muyumba and Bartosz Slisz (making his debut), centerbacks Luis Abram and Noah Cobb, fullbacks Brooks Lennon and Ronald Hernandez and goalkeeper Josh Cohen. Thiago Almada, Stian Gregersen, Caleb Wiley, Derrick Etienne, Dax McCarty and Edwin Mosquera weren’t available for selection.

The format was two 45-minute halves. The first team played the first half. The second team played the second half. The second group was Brad Guzan, Matt Edwards, Derrick Williams, Efrain Morales, Matias Gallardo, Jay Fortune, Javier Armas, Luke Brennan, Thiare and Tyler Wolff.

Pineda spoke Friday about wanting to see his team improve its play when building out of the back by increasing its pace and ball movement, its pressure, and its defense in a middle block.

He said it was difficult to judge whether the team improved playing out of the back because Memphis rarely attacked, so there weren’t many goal kicks. As for playing in a middle block and pressing, Pineda said he thought the second team played well in that regard. The first team missed some cues.

Atlanta United fell behind 1-0 in the third minute on a goal by Nighte Pickering. Memphis won the ball near midfield when Slisz lost a duel with Lucas Turci. Memphis played through Atlanta United’s midfield, with Pickering hitting a shot into the upper left corner.

Atlanta United’s first shot on goal came in the 28th minute. It was a 10-yard effort taken by Giakoumakis, who was played in by Lennon. Slisz played Lennon into space down the right.

Silva beat his defender twice in the 36th minute and hit a floating cross to the back post that was headed away for a corner kick just before Firmino could tap it in.

Atlanta United finished the half with seven shots, one on goal. Memphis finished the half with three shots, one on goal.

In the second half, Thiare was a half-second late to a through ball in the 56th minute, defusing that attack. A Williams header went over the bar in the 61st minute. The pass to the back post came from a free kick taken by Javier Armas. A Wolff shot was cleared off the line in the 64th minute. It was the prettiest sequence of either half. The attack was a series of one-touch passes down the field involving five players. Wolff received the ball near the top of the 18-yard box and in the left channel. His right-footed shot beat the goalkeeper and was about to go over the line when a Memphis defender cleared it away.

Brennan’s point-blank shot went over the bar in the 79th minute from a cross from the left end line by Fortune.

Wolff was denied again in the 88th minute after Gallardo carried the ball more than 50 yards while also avoiding several attempted tackles. Wolff tried to chip the goalkeeper, but the ball went off his shoulder.

Atlanta United finally broke through with Thiare’s goal.

Other talking points included Slisz’s first action. Pineda said he liked how decisive he was with the ball and how he blocked Memphis’ passing lanes. Lennon said that Slisz’s quality was evident. He started training with the team this week.

“Of course, he needs to continue to integrate into the team and spend a couple more minutes with Tristan so they can understand their roles,” Pineda said.

Lennon said it was good that Atlanta United matched Memphis’ aggression.

“Our opponents are going to come after us, and we not only need to outclass them on the field with our footballing ability, but also, make sure that we are up for the challenge, and that we’re ready from the first whistle of the game,” he said. “Because there was many instances last year where we were the better footballing team through 90 minutes, and we weren’t able to pull out a result, whether we conceded late goals, or whatever it may be.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 at Columbus, 2 p.m.

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

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 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 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.

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