After Atlanta United lost to DC United 3-1 in the second MLS “United Derby” many questions can be asked. For one, is Bill Hamid an actual human brick wall that can transform his goal into an impenetrable safe that only George Clooney and the zany gang from Ocean’s 11 could crack? Secondly, when the own goal drew DC even with Atlanta and Ben Olsen deployed a revolutionary tactic called ‘Parking The Bus’ defensively, and applied his offensively astute mind in possession by hoofing the ball in the general direction of Luciano Acosta and Sebastian Letoux in the hope that something good would happen, does it mean that every team in MLS has found out how to defeat the Five Stripes? Finally, should we be worried that Atlanta United could be collapsing like so many highway overpasses leading to a ruined season and the team looking less like MLS 3.0 and more like MLS oh no?
Kenwyne Jones and Michael Parkhurst offered their thoughts on very little of that but did provide insight into the loss and looked forward to what the team needs to do to get back on track in New York this weekend.
Not time to panic
3-1 is not a pretty scoreline and it may be tempting to panic after a loss like the one Atlanta United suffered on Sunday. However the final score does not tell the story of the match and won’t write the history of Atlanta’s season. It is tempting to look at a game like that and think that Atlanta played poorly, let their opponents execute their game plan, and it is natural for those thoughts to cause panic. Don’t panic though, the reality is that DC got lucky, reverted to playing their cynical style of soccer, and Atlanta deserved better in the match.
Atlanta took 26 shots in that game, that’s practically a shot for every mile in a marathon (it’s a lot of shots). Of those Bill Hamid saved six, let one in, seven were blocked, and 12 went off target. When the question of Atlanta failing to get a second goal came up, Kenwyne Jones wasn’t dwelling on it saying, “it’s not concerning that we didn’t get a second goal. You can only think that if you aren’t creating the chances and we had a flurry of chances.”
The expected goals data for the game bears that out, statistically speaking Atlanta should have walked away with a 2.6 to .82 final score (or a 3-1 victory if rounding and irony are your forte). The veteran Jones concluded his discussion of chances and being worried by saying, “the time you have to worry is when you’re not creating the chances and you can’t break the team down” but the chances were there and Atlanta United’s attackers should feel confident about that going into next week.
Riding the momentum swing
Atlanta United’s fast starts followed by mid-game struggles are enough to give fans a case of the vapors. On Sunday Atlanta started off with their usual burst of energy in the first 25 minutes of the game. In that span, the team went up 1-0 to the Black and Red but after an equalizer in the 25th minute, DC regained their composure defensively and settled into a long afternoon on the Greyhound.
While it would be great if Atlanta could play with the afterburners firing full blast for 90 minutes Kenwyne Jones explained that, “this is a game that you’re going have up times, you’re going to have down times and so does the opponent. In your up time, you have to try and capitalize on that and have to try and get on top of the team and obviously score goals and in your down time, you have to try and manage the game.”
Last week, the momentum shift occurred when Kyle Beckerman got a yellow card after a strong opening from Atlanta. From then on, the game was much more back and forth with United prevailing after exploiting an early second half mistake and burying the game in extra-time. Against DCU, it was an own goal that swung the game away from Atlanta and the team never got it back. Michael Parkhurst noted the momentum swing saying, “I think the own goal was deflating. It was their first chance maybe and it came out of nothing.”
Those types of situations can be discouraging and Parkhurst said that the team needs to be stronger mentally. The United captain observerd that the team needs to respond to situations when the opposition is on the front foot saying, “we have to be smart. Maybe draw a couple fouls, slow things down if we can’t hit them on the quick counter we have to realize when can we keep the ball.” If Atlanta can do that, the team should be able to get back to its game plan in future matches.
Of Pigeons and physicality
With Sunday comes a new game and a new chance for Atlanta to extend their excellent away form against a very difficult opponent. While Ben Olsen exhibited his appreciation for terrestrial public transit against Atlanta, NYCFC will be a different challenge for the Five Stripes. The Pigeons prefer to play a possession oriented game and have offensive weapons like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Jack Harrison, and Maxi Moralez.
Despite that attacking talent, NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira, a defensive midfield hard man in his playing days, certainly knows the value of physicality. For his part Kenwyne Jones isn’t thinking about NYCFC trying to play a rough game. He told reporters that “weather or not New York is looking after that to see what game plan they can adopt that’s them and their camp. Again, we come out here every day and we work on what we need to work on and try build on our style of play and our identity as a club. That for us is not going to change.”
If the Pigeons do run out a more corporeal style of play Jones nearly echoed the Spartan King Leonidas in commenting that, “this is soccer, as you affectionately know it, right? It’s a battlefield you have to expect that you’re going to get tough opponents.” Whatever NYCFC throws out at Atlanta United, Kenwyne Jones will be ready.
Defensively, Atlanta will try to get back the cohesion that led to the success the team had early in the season. Michael Parkhurst will look to have his current team avoid the fate of his former team last week when NYCFC came back to beat the Columbus Crew 3-2. David Villa didn’t play in that game and Parkhurst noted that New York didn’t miss a beat without their talisman.
Containing Jack Harrison, who had a player of the week caliber performance against Columbus, will be critical for Atlanta to be successful. Parkhurst noted that the young player is “very good one on one, he likes to stay out wide and do his thing out there. He’s composed in the box especially for a young player.” With NYCFC addressing their defensive liabilities and improving their attack in the offseason, Atlanta United will have to rise to the occasion to earn a good result.