A home rout paced by a four-goal explosion, with a relentless, intensely hungry No. 9 leading the way. More than 40,000 loud souls – even on a school night – roaring them on inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And a place back in the upper reaches of the standings.
It felt a bit like old times for Atlanta United on Wednesday night. The Five Stripes rode yet another Thiago Almada banger and a terrorizing second-half cameo from Giorgos Giakoumakis to a 4-0 thumping of the Colorado Rapids, snapping a three-game losing skid and sitting fourth place in the Eastern Conference table and sixth in the league overall.
“I have the luxury of getting along with the players every day, and I know the response. I know that look in their eyes, how they look at that message of urgency,” said head coach Gonzalo Pineda when asked afterward why he’d been so confident in his side’s prospects of a slump-breaker.
“They look at each other like, ‘yeah yeah, we can come back to that.’ I was very confident because I know the team wants to be better. The team is a winner team. And I love that tonight we show that. Of course, we have to show this every game, and that’s the demand from now on.”
Not so long ago the Benz was the most feared away trip in MLS. The crowds are loud and large, ATL’s talent and mentality were elite, and you didn’t have to play all that badly to get spanked by blowout margins, because the home team hardly ever called the dogs off.
Much of that got lost as Atlanta drifted off course in the wake of their trophy-laden 2018 and 2019 campaigns, and the club has spent a great deal of money and time trying to recapture the magic, with only sporadic results.
‘Sporadic’ has been a theme for them this season, too. Amid some bright performances, the Five Stripes have laid a few eggs in which they regressed to looking like less than the sum of their parts, particularly over the past month – to the point Giakoumakis let loose with these pointed comments after last weekend’s 3-1 loss to southern rival Charlotte FC.
“The leader can be in the dressing room, but the real leader for me is on the field. If you’re talking too much in here and then you go out and you don’t show anything, then you are not a leader,” said the 28-year-old striker, who arrived from Scotland’s Celtic FC in a reported $5.2 million transfer over the winter.
“We have to grow up and change our complete mentality. To basically create this champion mentality that we don’t have in the most possible way. Embracing that mentality, creating that mentality, now the whole game will change for us.”
Giakoumakis was limited to 37-plus minutes on Wednesday as he works back to full fitness after hamstring problems. But his influence was evident as the scoreline jumped from a jittery 1-0 advantage to the comfortable final margin – beyond his own jaw-dropping finish in the dying moments. It’s probably unfair to anoint anyone as Atlanta’s heir to now-Inter Miami CF striker Josef Martínez, but the new guy is on course.
“He is a great guy in the locker room, he is a leader,” said Pineda of Giakoumakis, a Greek international. “He is a guy that not with words but with actions shows his intensity, his desire, his hunger to score goals and help the team in any possible way. That's what I love about Giorgios.
“Just in any way he can help the team to win, he does: scoring goals, defending, pressing, chasing. So that's why the team is very confident when he’s on the field.”
This was just the third multi-goal win of the league campaign for ATLUTD, and as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Doug Roberson pointed out, they hit season highs in shots (27), shots on goal (10) and expected goals (3.85). As that long shadow cast by bygone glories indicates, that’s the kind of standard – and attitude – they want to maintain down in the A. Now they know the current group is capable of meeting it.
“We can win or lose, that’s not important. What is important, we always show the same attitude, urgency, intensity on every action,” said Pineda, “and I felt that today we did a very good job on that.”