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Air Force Juan: I love playing here and it seems like it’s becoming my home

Who had Juanjo Purata’s hat trick on the bingo card?

Atlanta United prevailed 4-2 on Saturday night Toronto FC, courtesy of Purata and a Thiago Almada golazo. This area was completely unscripted MLS-after-dark. But it’s great to see another win, especially after the controversial week the Five Stripes endured.

Purata’s headed hat trick made him the second full-time defender to score a hat trick in MLS and the first player since 2010 to score three headers in one game. Also, Atlanta United’s last seven goals before Almada’s goal were headers, which is the longest streak of consecutive headed goals since 2010, thanks to OptaJack. What a night.

In terms of performance, Atlanta United completely outclassed Toronto. The Five Stripes had 27 shots to Toronto’s 8 and 10 shots on goal to Toronto’s 2. The results finally seemed to swing in Atlanta’s favor for once when they legitimately dominated a game, and although moments of lack of focus came back to bite them, they fought back for a deserved win. Interestingly, Atlanta’s possession was decidedly less than normal and fans could see an increased number of vertical runs from the likes of Luiz Araujo, Dom Dwyer, Edwin Mosquera, Thiago Almada and Andrew Gutman.

MLS

What’s even wilder is that both teams went into halftime nil-nil. A penalty kick saved by Luis Araujo looked destined to come back to bite the Five Stripes, but they honestly looked the better side throughout the first 45 minutes. However, Atlanta struck first just two minutes into the second half on Purata’s opening goal, then faded and allowed Toronto to tie the game.

Atlanta then continued to watch Air Force Juan go up again from another angle. The ball was passed to Andrew Gutman who found Sejdic on the end line who sent it behind the goal to Purata.

But what is 2022 without the emotional roller coaster? Purata then conceded an admittedly light penalty moments later which led to Federico Bernardeschi again heading home the equaliser.

Enter Argentina’s new prodigy, Thiago Almada. He ate Michael Bradley’s soul. Just look, oh…and the fans see you, Edwin Mosquera.

They didn’t leave the throttle there though. Just because he could, Purata went and scored the hat trick. Why not?

There’s no reason to get into “except for Toronto’s defense” or “look at the caliber of the team” arguments at this point. The team put on a show for the fans last night and it was legitimately a fun match to watch. The Five Stripes still have a hill to climb to get into the playoffs, but 42,760 people made the trip to watch a team that fought hard all season and that’s something to celebrate. Purata’s hat trick, Thiago’s talent, Dwyer’s fight, Mosquera’s straightforwardness, Gutman’s heart and the team’s victory is a breath of fresh air, even if it ultimately doesn’t change the 2022 season.

Gonzalo Pineda and hat-trick hero Juanjo Purata spoke to the media after the match and every player in the dressing room jeered at being the man of the hour. A note in the comments below. Purata dedicated his goals and victory to every member of the club, both visible and invisible, except for Josef Martinez. He said the entire team is with the Venezuelan during the ongoing drama and fans can only hope that Josef will return to the team with renewed vigor after his suspension.

Both Pineda and Purata’s quotes appear below, but be sure to leave your comments below as well.

Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda

If he wants to start taking credit for the team’s success in the phase

“No no no no. In the end, they are my assistants, they work very hard and 99% of the success is the players. The delivery was good, they attack the areas we want to attack. The second balls in the box, they hit the areas that we also want and there are players attacking those areas. They are my players and assistants.”

If the staff knew that Juanjo Purata would be an aggressive presence in the sets

“Well, we saw and asked a lot of questions to a lot of people from Tigres and we knew he was very good in aerial duels. That was his highlight, but obviously, Tigres didn’t score many goals, but we saw that he had the ability to be good in the air. Now he’s exceeding our expectations on that one, but credit, yeah, Purata was really good for us in the set pieces, but that’s everybody. Creates opportunities for corners. They are the kids who take the corners, hit the balls. The movement we try to use, the decoys, the blockers, the second balls. It’s a whole package that obviously helps Purata shine in the sets as well.”

How much this result helps the confidence of the team

“We have to do our part, which is game by game, trying to win every game. But not only the result, which is ultimately what defines our work, but also the performance. The kind of performance we showed today is similar to what we want from the team. I think today was the best day in terms of expected goals, we believe. It was a very good game in terms of the chances created. We’re very happy with that as well.”

On whether the importance of the match was discussed with the team

“We’ve been talking about it for several games before. The urgency to win, I think at times we also play very good football and we haven’t got the result. What you saw in the first half, this has been happening for 90 minutes in many games. We’re playing well, we’re creating a lot of chances but we’re not scoring the goals or we’re not at the advantage we should be based on performance, right? It’s just sometimes 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 just a matter of time. But many, many games, we didn’t make it. So it’s a bit of the mental side as well, overcoming a penalty, missing two chances, half chances, dominating throughout. I don’t think in the first half, they have more than one shot and it was probably the PK [penalty kick]. It’s a very good performance without the result, so I think credit to the players for putting in that kind of performance and cementing it with the three points.”

On whether he is concerned about the concession after promotion and what is the solution

“Paying attention to the film, fixing the little things, PK. Yes, a handball that looked a lot like theirs or a free kick, it was a 50-50 ball for me. I haven’t seen the replay for this one. The games where they got their goals and penalties came out of almost nothing. So that’s the disappointment part for me, but obviously, we’ll be reviewing the movie. We will try to do better there. But the other solution is to try to score a lot of goals from the many chances we created. Maybe we concede two goals, but if we score four or five, I think there is no problem. We’re always looking to be more solid defensively, but maybe now we need to focus more on attack.”

On whether the team intends to keep Juanjo Purata longer

“Well, I think I know the answer, but I don’t want to misrepresent or misrepresent reality. So I’ll leave it to Carlos [Bocanegra] to answer because he is the one who knows all the details about it, but obviously, based on the performance and not only because of the goals but also the defenders, I don’t know, good performances that Juanjo had, I think we are very happy if he comes back next year.”

Atlanta United defender Juanjo Purata

Have you scored three goals before?

“Never.” -laugh-

About how you feel tonight

“I’m very happy. I’m very excited. I’m happy first because the team won. We deserved the win after two away defeats. Happy because the team got three points and we’re alive, we’re in the game and we’re not going to stop fighting until achieve what we want”.

To score six goals and if things go better than he expected for him personally

“The truth is, tonight is a pretty crazy night. It’s not common for a central defender to score three goals, but tonight it happened to me. But it’s because of the work of everyone in the team. It’s about everyday work. It is not the work of just one man, not two or three people, not even the 11 players on the field. It’s everyone’s job in that locker room, everyone outside who doesn’t appear on camera but contributes a lot. It’s everyone’s job. And I want to dedicate it also to Josef, that he knows the team is with him, the team is united and the team is very strong and we will fight until the end.”

On how he feels to score three goals and give Atlanta three important points and keep the team alive in the playoff race

“Yes, I will say it again that the team will fight until the end, until the last moment as this team is characterized. I feel very excited. I am happy for all that I personally experience. Maybe the team deserves more, we deserve to be higher than we are. We play good football, there are very good players here. Personally, I feel really good and like I said it’s a credit to everyone’s work every day, from before I got here and since I’ve been a professional. I am also grateful to all the fans who have supported me since the first day I arrived here.”

By winning his place in the team:

“Well, I like to live day by day. I like to be in the present and not worry about what happened or what will happen. There are things that are out of my hands, but when they are, I will do my best. I would love to continue being here, but it’s not my decision. I wish it was my decision. But I would love to. This team has opened doors for me, people have welcomed me very well, in the club, the fans, the pitch. I was commenting to a teammate yesterday that I love playing here and it seems like it’s becoming my home. I would like to thank everyone, all the fans and everyone at the club for believing in me.”

On how the team analyzes everything that has happened this season

“Football is a game of mistakes. So usually, the team that wins is the team that makes the fewest mistakes. So this season we have made mistakes, missed penalties, penalties against us, these are things that happen, but the important thing is to be prepared mentally and to be able to respond. So if you’re a goal down, you have to respond and score. If we score, then we have to go and score another goal. That’s the mindset we have to have and keep fighting because that’s football, mistakes are going to happen and you have to be mentally prepared to fight because that’s part of the game.”