What was said: Atlanta United 1, Toronto 0

What was said after Atlanta United’s 1-0 win against Toronto on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:

Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino:

On if he was pleased with tonight’s performance

“I’m glad we won the game. I’m just glad we won.”

On what’s the message to the team

“In this league it’s important to win games like that. It’s important to win at home. I told them before the game, that you have to win at home. We have a lot of home games left. We have to continue to win at home. It’s important to the fans. It’s important to us. You have to make this place as close to what it was before, people being scared to come here. That’s what I told them after the match. A win is a win. I appreciate their efforts. I probably don’t say that enough because they sacrifice their bodies and try to perform to the best of their abilities. There is no one out there just tossing it off.

I appreciate the sacrifice they put on their body day in and day out. They play through injuries and what not. I really appreciate that. That’s what I stressed to them after the match. I’ll take responsibility when I’ve done things wrong. If that was a reflection of me, I’ll take that responsibility. But I also just want to make sure they are appreciated. That’s not easy going on a Sunday, then a Wednesday and now going again on Saturday. A win is a win and it’s important for this group and for the club at the moment.”

On the pace of the game tonight and if that was a function of schedule congestion

“I’m not sure. When I watch it back I will look and see. I thought that in the LA game and I watched a few actions and there were guys trying to get in behind. Maybe they weren’t getting the ball and they stopped doing it. We spoke before about different areas that we can try to get in behind, especially early. For me as silly as it sounds, it’s a ball over the top that got us the goal again. I’m not here to play pretty soccer all the time, but it needs to be effective and direct and attack-minded. That’s where the goal comes from tonight, that’s where it came from the other day. At times there is a time and place to play it inside, but if you stretch them early, it will open up the space more. In the first half, I thought we could have been better with that. I thought it was too slow, but I’ll watch it back again. It was stressed to try and run in behind, but maybe I need to be more specific on that. I can’t fault their efforts.”

On Luiz Araujo’s debut tonight

“I thought he was good. He had some good actions. It’s good to mix him in the group. I’m sure for his first game with the club there are a lot of things going through his head. So, to introduce him to the fans and shows what he is about. You can see his quality in attack, and he worked defensively as well, he just has to continue to progress and work in the group. He’s a quality player, they all are, so they mix in with each other really well. I thought he did alright tonight.”

On how the attack performed with so many creative players on field at same time

“In the first half, I thought here we go, we will see some actions here. I thought there could have been a little more. Again, I’m not faulting them, I just thought that we have to figure out how to get the best players on the pitch. That was my idea, how can we get all these attackers to have a relationship on the field and feel comfortable with each other. Play those combinations, but also having the freedom to move into those spaces. Who checks into those spaces, who runs beyond. Some of those guys got it like Marcelino (Moreno), Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez. They’ve played together for a bit now, then you add Luiz (Araujo) into it and I thought it was good at times, but it’s a work in progress.”

On Santiago Sosa’s status

“I don’t have any update on Santiago. I literally just got in and spoke to him quick. But I came straight to you guys (Press Conference). I did check my phone real quick and had a text from Gonzalo Pineda. He’s pretty good about the communication. He said that’s a very good three points.”

On the defense recording a second-straight clean sheet

“I think the back five is starting to understand when to step, when to drop. Who covers who. They are starting to have better relationships. My goal when I took over was to find the consistencies, the same lineups as best we can, when players are performing of course. They are starting to have an understanding that they might be isolated at times. They might be 1v1 at the back, I’m ok with that. That means we are pushing numbers forward. The last two games, they have had a lot of pressure on them. It’s not always pretty, it’s definitely a lot to work on. They got a clean sheet, which is really important. Brad Guzan is a big piece of that, they all are important to that. Everybody contributes to that clean sheet. When this change happened, the first thing I did was a massive change. No disrespect to the previous staff, but it wasn’t something I fully knew because it wasn’t my system. So the defending has been the biggest thing to change. It’s hard to go from six-seven months of one way, to then change it on them in two days. They have picked up on things really well. Like everything, there is room to grow and improve on.”

On what he thinks of Ezequiel Barco’s growth since returning from the Olympics

“He’s been more productive, first and foremost. I’m sure that he feels pressure, which is a good thing. I think a lot of people probably criticize his defending. I said to our staff, when we played Montreal, they said ‘we have to make sure we get our attackers to defend.’ And I said, ‘that kid defends. Make sure you guys watch this game and see him defend.’ And you can check his numbers. He runs. Now maybe I can give him better direction on where to run. I can work on that. But he’s putting in some serious shifts. And all of our players have, but you’re asking about Barco. And I watched him in Columbus, in the 94th minute I think, he sprinted across the field, made a slide tackle on Pedro Santos. Then later in the play, he picked up the ball, counterattacked about 50-60 yards, lost the ball, and then sprinted backed 50-60 yards and got back in position for someone else. And I don’t think people see that stuff. The kid works. And now he’s adding production to it. It’s good to see. I hope he keeps growing, I hope he keeps pushing because he wants to be better, he has big aspirations. And I hope we can help him be a part of that.”

Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon

On the result

“It’s always a good feeling to get three points at home. These are the games we need to win, especially here at Mercedes Benz. Like you said, we didn’t play our best game, but we got the three points and that’s the most important and we’re climbing the table. That’s three wins out of three. The only thing we can do is go out there and try to win games and that’s what we’re doing.”

On his relationship with Luiz Araujo on the right flank

“Very excited. I think he’s a bright talent to add to the group. He should his qualities tonight in spurts early on. I thought he was good beating players one-on-one. I think his first touch was immaculate. So, we’re really excited to have him in the team and hopefully he can push forward and get some goals for us and assists.”

On his conversation with Ezequiel Barco on balls over the top

“I spoke with Barco quickly and also Josef before the game. It was a part of the scouting report that they were going to leave some space in behind. We watched a lot of their games and they’ve conceded chances from balls over the top and in behind. So, as soon as Barco took off and made that run, I had to play him because he was going to be wide open. I was glad to connect with him and happy that he was able to get the goal.”

On what the team needs to improve on to dominate games more

“I think we need to be a little bit more connected as a group. In times in the game, we get separated from the front runners to the defensive line. If we could just a little bit gel more, keep the ball more at times when we are under a little bit of pressure, I think that will help us moving forward. We’re going into a tough place in D.C. on Saturday night and we’re looking to get three points again.”

On what causes the separation between the forwards and defensive line

“I think it’s a combination of things. Obviously, we’ve been playing with a back five, so you have one extra defender back there. So, you’re taking one player from the midfield that you would normally have. I think we just need to look at it over film because there’s times when we lose the ball and we’re just too separated as a group. There’s too big of a gap. That creates a little bit of havoc at times trying possess the ball because you don’t have players in and around you at times. We’re going to just fix those things that, I think, the group needs to improve on. Hopefully, we could watch the film and get ready for Saturday.”

On how he feels physically after taking a few matches to recover

“I feel great. Tonight was a really good run out for me. I got 25, 30 minutes on Sunday, felt good when I came in as well. My body feels back to 100% and I’m happy to be back together with the group.”

On the team’s confidence playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

“There were a lot of games – early on – this season where we played really, really well, especially at home, and we just didn’t get the result. Now, we’re seeing those results come our way – maybe it’s one ball that’s a deflection like tonight where it goes in the back of the net, whereas in previous (games) at the start of the season weren’t going our way. It’s good to see results going our way – things, decisions starting to fall for us. We can’t just rely on chance. We need to go out there and perform. Tonight, we did a good job of getting the three points, like I said, but we need to do better in the overall performance.”

On matching up against Toronto FC Midfielder Yeferson Soteldo

“It’s tough. He’s a good player. He’s a small, shifty guy. Especially coming off the bench, he’s fresh – and I don’t know when he came in, in the 60th minute or something like that – and it’s always tough for an outside back to mark a guy that’s coming in fresh off the bench. He’s a good, shifty player, but I’m glad we didn’t concede.”

On how the team felt before the match and what contributed to the team’s play at the start

“I think the feeling before the game was really good. Everyone was positive (and) highly energized to get the three points. I think just when we went out there, we weren’t moving the ball quick enough, especially at the back, from side to side, it was just too slow and lackadaisical, and that’s something that we can easily fix. The mindset was always there. Everyone in and around the group wanted to get three points and was willing to give everything they had to accomplish that goal, and we did. Hats off to the boys. I know this was the second game in a quick turnaround, and we’re going to have another game in a couple of days, so the mentality has to stay the same. We have to up the mentality a little bit more to make Rob (Valentino) a little bit more happy.”

Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco

On how difficult the skill was on his goal

“It was a pretty quick play and I had talked with Brooks (Lennon) about how there was going to be a lot of space behind the center backs and luckily it was able to go in and give us a win, which is the most important.”

On the confidence he is playing with since he returned from the national team

“My teammates make me feel good on the field, the coaching staff gives me the freedom to move across the attack and that gives me a lot of confidence and to be able to help the team.”

On his fitness level and ability to run more this season and what has changed

“Yes, as I said before I feel good on the field, both tactically and physically. But this is just getting started, we’re starting to win after a long time and we have to stay on this path to achieve more things.”

On Luiz Araújo’s debut

“Very well. Luiz is an excellent player and tonight he showed that on the field. He’s very good and was up to the level of the game and that’s going to favor us.”

On if winning games despite not playing at the team’s best still gives the team confidence

“Yes, today in football terms we didn’t play a great game but the important thing is to win and we did it. The opponents are also good, in Toronto, and in Los Angeles in the last game. It’s tough for us to play at times but this is the path that we have to continue.”

On if his shot took a deflection

“I think it touched the defender a little and that moved the ball a little towards the goal.”

On how he would describe the goal

“Happy. Happy because it helped us to get the win. Before the game I talked with Brooks about how the pass behind the center backs would be there and luckily it went like that and we were able to score.”


Southern Fried Soccer

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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 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto

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