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Atlanta United’s potential for greatness is maddening

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Explaining the madness we’re feeling.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I must confess something. It was I at the controls of the Dirty South Soccer Twitter account during Atlanta United’s loss to D.C. United last night. If you couldn’t tell, we alternate up to as many as three people to tweet during matches sometimes. I’m usually the one with the snarky comments and over-emotional reactions.

It’s not my fault. I’m a fan, man.

When I’m writing a serious post, I try to stay as unbiased and professional as possible. But when the heat of the match kicks in, I’m not fully in control of the thoughts coming out.

There’s a reason for the handful of triggered tweets from last night. That’s because Atlanta United have too much potential. What? Too much potential? How’s that even possible? Well, let me explain.

For about a year leading up to this inaugural season, everyone was preaching the same sermon: “Give them time. They’ll be an expansion team. It’s a long process.”

Darren Eales would recite the same things over and over in every interview he did in that long run-up to 2017. “Our aim is to be competitive from day one,” he said repetitively. The team he and the technical staff put together met those promises. Atlanta is without a doubt a competitive MLS side. The frustrating part about this is, they already have the potential to be so much more.

Currently, Atlanta United are on the edge of the playoff picture and likely will be throughout the rest of the season unless a dramatic shift in form comes one way or another. However, anyone who watches them week-in-week-out firmly believes that they are on the cusp of being great. One week they look like they can play any team in the league off the field, then the next they make the worst team in the league look like 2003-04 Arsenal. A lot of this currently has to do with the home and away splits.

While the Five Stripes started the season competent on the road while having to maneuver through a four-game road trip, they’ve since lost all sense of how to perform away from Atlanta since their schedule has balanced out. It’s just frustrating to see their road form completely fall off. If they were able to sustain their early season road form, that saw them go 2-1-2 in their first five road matches. Since then, a depressing 0-4-1 with several embarrassing performances along the way.

Pointing fingers and blaming certain players will be the natural reaction. But the fact remains, Atlanta United have the potential to be one of the best teams in MLS right now. Is that ambitious for an expansion franchise? Of course. Should we be happy that we have a competitive team and aren’t a joke in year one? Without a doubt. However, human nature leaves us wanting more. As a fan, I’m going to overreact after a frustrating match that could’ve easily been won. Now’s not the time for “Oh well, we’re just happy to not be completely awful.” There will be time in the offseason for reason justifications for not reaching potential. Now’s not that time.

Atlanta United have the capabilities right now of being an elite team in this league. This is not an exaggeration of hyperbole. A few tweaks and improvements and they are right there. Miguel Almiron is an upper-echelon player already. Josef Martinez is getting back to his best. Tito Villalba is a handful for any defense. Julian Gressel is going to win Rookie of the Year. Yamil Asad is ... so damn good. Jeff Larentowicz is a new man and one of the most surprising stories in the league. Carlos Carmona is dependable. Greg Garza is solid. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is streaky, but full of potential. And that’s where I’ll stop.

Atlanta United have the potential to be great. Their inconsistencies are hindering their ability to fulfill that potential and that’s why it’s extremely maddening, especially on a night like last night. Having a competitive team in the inaugural season is great. Having a team that’s capable of so much more and getting in their own way is extremely frustrating in a weird, self-entitled way.