PHOTOS: Atlanta United 2 / USL
By Théo Gauthier
In W.P. Kinsella’s 1986 novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, the author explores what would happen if a baseball game went to extra innings and never ended, bending time and space to conjure up a 2000-inning game between the 1908 Chicago Cubs and a local Iowa team.
Shades of that idea were on display tonight in Atlanta as the Ottawa Fury and Atlanta United II resumed a match which was suspended in early June. The match had already been delayed for multiple hours due to thunderstorms in the area, and the teams only got 44 minutes into their USL match before the storms rolled in once more.
Back on that rainy night in Georgia, the Fury entered the match with 15 points, four more than their counterparts from the Peach State. The Fury had managed to score two goals; an Eddie Edward own-goal had given Atlanta the lead in only the third minute before Kévin Oliveira equalised in the tenth. That score would hold until play was suspended.
Tonight, we get to ask the question: what if a halftime team talk lasted two months? What if Nikola Popovic had been given a chance to bring a future version of his squad back to Atlanta for the second half? Would he have taken it?
Surely he would have. This version of the Ottawa Fury is much-improved from the one that took the field at Fifth Third Bank Stadium two months ago. Since then, the Fury have doubled their point total, going from 15 to 30. Atlanta, on the other hand, has only picked up four points in that span.
And so, the ground rules for this unique resumption of hostilities: each team were allowed up to six changes to their lineup from June (conversely meaning that five players from that day needed to be in the “starting lineup”), and both teams retained their three substitutions. The match was to resume in the 44th minute. After that: the new reality.
Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic elected to go with the same roster from Friday night’s win against the Rowdies, which meant a night off for original starters Carl Haworth (who was on the bench for the first time in his return from injury) and Chris Mannella. For his part, Atlanta Head Coach Scott Donnelly elected to make five changes, most notably bringing in Devon Sandoval up top.
So how did it go down? We found out why the wise old men that came up with the rules for association football all those years ago at Cambridge University in England settled on 90 minutes as the standard for a match. Watching only 45 minutes left the viewer feeling pretty empty when the final whistle was blown (yes, they had the same referees as the first half).
Having said that, Atlanta was the team that was able to settle into anything looking like a groove, impressively passing the ball around the field and pinning the Fury in their end for the majority of the half. Despite Popovic calling for his team to retain more possession and have a higher pass completion percentage during last Friday’s post-match press conference, his team failed to answer in this instance. Atlanta ended the match with 70.5% possession, completely dominating the visitors, who were left trying to cobble together counter-attacking opportunities.
The Fury’s best chance of the second half came when Adonijah Reid dribble his way past a couple of defenders on the left side and cut into the 18-yard box. Atlanta United II keeper Mitch Hildebrandt saved his shot, the ball glancing off the post and out of play.
Atlanta had a few opportunities to pull ahead, notably a corner kick that was headed off the crossbar by A.J. Cochran in the 90th minute. The way Atlanta came at the Fury in this half, it’s jarring to look at the standing and see them second-from-bottom in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
It was a strange night. Everything felt a little off, and you have to imagine the players felt the same. The score would remain unchanged from when play was suspended on June 16th. Atlanta United II walk away with a point, in a 1-1 draw without scoring a goal. The Fury earns a point and sets up a showdown of seventh place teams on Friday night when they travel to Nashville.
Don’t ever do this to us again, weather gods.
- In case you were wondering, “Fifth Third Bank” is derived from the names of both of the bank’s two predecessor companies: Third National Bank and Fifth National Bank, which merged in 1908. Guess they didn’t have branding experts back then.
- Since we’re piling on already, what’s with calling the team Eh-Tee-Elle-You-Tee-Dee Two? Probably a descendant of the marketing firm that came up with “Fifth Third Bank”.
- Oh, and since we’re in our groove, did the apocalypse happen in Atlanta with everyone focused on Washington D.C.? The field looked better after a torrential downpour in June than it did tonight: pockmarked, gridiron lines, yellowed grass. What an inadvertent advertisement for FieldTurf.
- New signing Daniel Kinumbe has made the trip south with the Fury and was an unused substitute on Tuesday night.
- Fury Man of the Match: Onua Obasi. What a strange one to grade, based on two sets of notes taken months apart. On the whole, though, it was Obasi who impressed most, with some key tackles and some steady distribution on the left flank.