ORLANDO, Fla. -- For a team solidly in the top four of the rapidly evolving Eastern Conference, Atlanta United head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino was remarkably low key in assessing his team’s 1-0 win at Orlando City SC on Friday.
It was the first meeting of the league’s two Southeast rivals, and there was a fair amount of pre-game hype, including the infamous downtown Orlando billboard, but that didn’t count for much with the Atlanta United supremo either.
A “rivalry” game? Not for another 50 years, he insisted. A fully merited three points? No, not really deserved, he said. A job well done to close out the three points? No, not well managed at all.
“First half, we had some possession and we had some chances to score but we didn’t play as well in the second half,” Martino said via the team’s interpreter. “We didn’t have as many chances but we scored a great goal, a goal that was out of context of how that half went. I don’t think we really deserved it at that point.
“We didn’t manage the game well at the end. That’s when we needed to control possession the most and we weren’t able to do it. We allowed them to get some good chances on goal, so that’s something we need to work on in future.”
Martino was unequivocal about the performance of Guzan, who came up with five key saves – including two crucial stops from Jonathan Spector headers – after being with the team barely two weeks since his return to MLS from the Premier League and more recently, Gold Cup duty.
“I think he gave the team a lot of security tonight,” he said. “Aside from all the great saves that he made, he made us more secure.”
On the all-important goal by Villalba – a stunning top-corner rocket from all of 25 yards – Martino was delighted with his Argentine ace, who was filling in up top for the injured Josef Martinez, ruled out before the game. But he wasn’t surprised.
“I think we have multiple special guys in our midfield and moving forward,” he claimed. “Tito [Villalba], Miguel [Almiron], Josef when he is on the field, and Julian [Gressel]. They are all capable of scoring a goal out of nowhere. I say that goals come easy to them so that when there is a game like this, they are able to score out of the rhythm of play when we need it.
“I thought Tito played well generally today as well. It’s been a while since he had played in that forward position and he was able to come in from the wing and score a great goal.”
Martino remains dismissive of the rivalry angle, though. After coaching Argentina, Paraguay and Barcelona, even the prospect of another immediate game with Orlando, back in Atlanta on July 29, does not light too much of a fire for him.
“I think we will have to wait another 50 years to find out,” he insisted. “I appreciate the enthusiasm you guys [in the media] have about it, but it is far from being a rivalry. We need another 100 games between the two teams before we can call it that. Atlanta has only played 20 games in the league so far.”
Guzan, who was suitably pleased with his performance while downplaying the significance of the clean sheet, wasn’t quite so sure.
“You come into this environment, this atmosphere, [and] it’s a bit hostile. There are a few things going on off the pitch,” he pointed out. “As their manager said, with rivalries, you can’t just label them, they have to be formed. But with us both being in the Southeast, being so close to each other, two good teams, attacking teams, I think that [rivalry] is going to come naturally.”