Atlanta United grabbed an early lead on a Kenwyne Jones header, but lost the lead by halftime and gave up another in the second half. Here’s what we learned:
Atlanta needs to control games better
One thing Atlanta has struggled with all season has been it’s ability to play at a controlled, sustainable tempo for 90 minutes, or at least long durations. Too often we’ve seen this team play attacking, exciting, vertical soccer, only too look completely gassed later on and extremely vulnerable. Saturday, Anthony Joshua fought Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight title fight. In the fifth round, Joshua started to really let loose and knocked Klitschko down. But by the time he got back up and resumed the fight, it was Joshua who looked more likely to get KO’d because he was completely sapped of energy, to the point where he could barely hold his gloves up to his face while Klitschko went back at him.
A similar situation played out on the grass of Historic Grant Field Sunday. Atlanta came out guns blazing and scored the first goal, but at what cost? Tata Martino acknowledged something similar after the team’s debut against New York Red Bulls, saying, “I think it’s important for us to improve and control the game - not just for periods, but controlling the ball and playing intense.” Clearly this is still an issue the team is working through, and it’s only made more difficult on days like Sunday when the weather conditions are so intense. It will only get more difficult, so the team has work to do in this respect.
Atlanta were not ready for y’all
For the first time this season, Atlanta played the majority of the game out of sorts, and, worryingly, didn’t look like they had the right approach mentally. Too often, players seemed unevenly spaced on the field, leaving huge gaps for D.C. to exploit on the break. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was the most obvious culprit in this respect, but lapses happened all over the field. To make things worse, Atlanta’s players grew frustrated as the game wore on and were lucky to finish the game with 11 players on the field. All in all, a very disappointing afternoon, especially considering how long it’s been since the home fans have been able to watch their side in the flesh.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was not at the races today
To say that some of the buzz surrounding LGP has gone to his head is a bit presumptive, but he had, quite frankly, a terrible display today, just a week following what may have been his best game for Atlanta. He wasn’t good in any respect, really. His distribution was poor, and worse, he wandered up the field and frequently broke the team’s shape at the back, which DC United exploited ruthlessly and clinically.
That said, he was probably growing frustrated with the team’s inability to move the ball forward from midfield. Julian Gressel struggled once again to play the ball forward, and our best play seemed to be totally reliant on Miguel Almiron to dribble through the heart of the defense. This became increasingly more difficult as DC sat deeper and deeper, allowing Atlanta to pass the ball around the back and grow ever more frustrated. Dc deserves credit for not giving up on their gameplan -- they executed it to perfection.
Hot weather conditions took their toll
Surprisingly, despite Atlanta United front office’s strategy to build the team around South American and Latino players who are accustomed to temperate conditions, only one team looked well-equipped to play in such a game. D.C. conserved their energy by defending deep and compact and breaking at pace. Atlanta, meanwhile, was expending valuable energy just knocking the ball around without much purpose, and it bit them in the ass.
Despite DC’s deep team setup, Atlanta really missed a player like Josef Martinez in this match. Kenwyne Jones played well for a short duration, but he looked exhausted by about the 25th minute. This fatigue means he wasn’t moving around as much. If a forward is constantly on the move, whether it be side-to-side or dropping into midfield from time to time, it forces the defenders to work harder, to communicate with each other, to concentrate more, etc. Martinez is a younger, more energetic player who would’ve been able to hold up long than Jones. Not only that, but we would’ve been able to bring Jones off the bench as a late game sub – perfect! Instead, it was a very lackluster, tame performance.