Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda has credited the mental strength of his players following their crucial 4-2 win over Toronto FC on Saturday.
Despite missing a penalty in the 12th minute and twice giving up the lead, the Five Stripes were able to get over the line and pick up three vital points, just about keeping them in the MLS Cup Playoffs race with four regular-season games to go.
Saturday’s win also comes off the back of Atlanta losing back-to-back games against the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers by a 6-2 combined scoreline. Not only that, the club has had to endure the arrest of defender Miles Robinson and a public falling out between Pineda and iconic striker Josef Martinez, who was suspended by the club for the match.
Something had to change and Pineda was full of praise for the ability of his players to dig in and get the result.
“I think at times we’ve been playing also very good football and we haven’t gotten the result,” Pineda observed. “What you saw in the first half, that’s been happening 90 minutes in many games. We play good, we create a lot of chances but we don’t score the goals or we are not with the advantage that we should have based on the performance, right? It’s just a matter of time before the goals come like that when you create so many chances. When you do the right things in the attacking half, I think it’s a matter of time.
“But many, many games, we didn’t succeed on that. So it’s a little bit also the mental side, overcoming missing a penalty, missing a couple [of] chances, half-chances, dominating the whole time. I don’t think in the first half, they have more than one shot and probably it was the PK [penalty kick]. It’s a very solid performance without the result so I think, credit to the players on putting on this type of performance and solidifying that with the three points.”
Another Thiago Almada golazo put Atlanta 3-2 up in the 74th minute, but there’s no doubting Juan Purata was the catalyst for Saturday’s victory.
Incredibly, the Mexican center-back delivered a hat-trick of headers from corners, starting and ending a chaotic second half that featured six goals. Purata’s defending for TFC’s two strikes left a lot to be desired, but his own goals sealed the points and reflected that ability to overcome mental hurdles that impressed Pineda so much.
Purata was keen to dedicate his hat-trick to the rest of the Atlanta United squad, including the suspended Martinez.
“The truth is tonight is a very crazy night. It’s not common for a central defender to score three goals but tonight it happened to me,” Purata told reporters. “But it’s because of the work from everyone on the team. It’s about the work every day. It’s not just the work of one person, not two or three people, not even the 11 players on the field. It’s the work of everyone in this locker room, everyone outside who doesn’t appear on camera but contribute a lot. It’s the work of everyone.
“And I want to dedicate it also to Josef, that he knows the group is with him, the group is united and the group is very strong and we’re going to fight until the end.”
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