Well damn. I don’t know whether I’m more frustrated or embarrassed, but Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at D.C. United in the nation’s capital means Atlanta has now been downed twice by one of MLS’s worst teams. D.C. United hadn’t scored a goal from open play since they came to Bobby Dodd Stadium earlier this season, and that feels like an eternity ago. It’s a pretty disastrous result for Atlanta — arguably it’s worst of the year, only challenged by Atlanta’s loss to D.C. at home. But a slip-up early in the season by an expansion franchise is something that’s more understandable than one like Wednesday. Here’s what we learned from Atlanta’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day:
Atlanta still suffers from imbalance
A few of the Dirty South Soccer writers talked Wednesday morning about Josh Bagriansky’s article that published Tuesday on Atlanta’s pressing — both the good and the bad. Wednesday night against D.C. they overextended themselves going forward, gifting the home side tons of space to exploit.
Now let’s pause that video at the point where Julian Gressel’s pass is intercepted by a D.C. defender.
So all it took was for one inaccurate cross/cutback and Atlanta has SEVEN players unavailable to defend the impending counter attack. There’s no reason to have this many players blindly charging into the box. So often in soccer you hear announcers bemoan the fact that a player puts a cross into the box, only for a team to have no one in the box to get on the end of it. This is the opposite end of that spectrum, and it’s actually worse because it leaves the team so exposed. The tactical challenge for any manager is to find balance between attacking impetus and defensive solidity, and Atlanta still struggles to find this balance (even in games they win, by the way.)
The fullbacks need to be rotated midweek
Playing fullback in the modern era of soccer is very taxing. It’s not just Tata Martino’s system. Most systems that require the fullbacks to get up and down the touchline. Tonight, our fullbacks were exposed, particularly Tyrone Mears down D.C.’s left wing. The problem wasn’t that Mears was caught out of position -- he simply couldn’t close down attackers who were in dangerous areas. D.C.’s second goal from Patrick Nyarko should’ve been dealt with easily. Nyarko took a heavy touch that left the ball floating in the air, requiring the winger to wait for it to come down until he could strike it. Mears simply sat off, not forcing Nyarko to make any adjustment, and the D.C. attacker buried it. This is unacceptable, especially when you’re playing a team that is so anemic offensively. Even after that goal, Mears continued to sit off defenders, preferring to attempt to block shots than to disrupt the attacker. But Mears is only partially to blame in this situation. He can’t really affect his fitness level during the match, so the manager has to take some of the blame for either A) playing a player not fit to play 90 minutes, or B) not taking Mears off the field when he was clearly spent.
Alec Kann had a nightmare
Alec Kann will be feeling the heat from the fans for the poor way in which he conceded possession to D.C. United attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta. The Argentinian simply took the ball down at the edge of the box and found himself in a one-on-one vs. Kann which he slotted home at the near post. But this obvious mistake wasn’t the only flaw in Kann’s play tonight. Early in the game, he was hesitant to come off his line to collect high-flying crosses that put his defenders in dicey situations and forced the team to collapse in on goal. Following the error that lead to the goal, his decision making seemed to worsen with the ball. He failed to launch counter-attacking passes and seemed hesitant in general. To round it all off, he took a brutal shot to the head from Patrick Nyarko early in the second half — just a brutal night in what has largely been a very positive season for the Georgia native. Let’s hope he puts this behind him quickly and he doesn’t let this performance affect him.