Atlanta United is a soccer team, and as such they play lots and lots of soccer. Over the next eight days they will have three games with two being away. Of late Atlanta’s away form has been less like a Chevy Chase family comedy where there are some follies, puns, and whimsy, and more like the Cormac McCarthy novel The Road minus the cannibals, until Luis Suarez joins MLS, and the unrelenting bleak landscape, though RFK Stadium is a horror show.
The Five Stripes will travel to Miami for a U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday night and then turn around on short rest before heading to Columbus to take on the Crew on Saturday. Atlanta has struggled mightily on the road as of late, as Julian Gressel told reporters Monday, “one out of 15 possible points is just not enough.” In order for the team to realize it’s potential and make the post season, United has to start getting better results in its away matches.
A reoccurring theme that players have mentioned at several points throughout the season is needing a better mentality when away from Bobby Dodd Stadium. Atlanta United have lost to opponents ranging from the third best team in the East, against NYCFC, to DC United, a team near the bottom of the table, so it isn’t as if they are merely playing down to lesser opponents. Asked what was different about the mentality of the team in Atlanta as opposed to in away matches Gressel said, “at home we have 50,000 people that cheer you on, that’s probably the biggest thing.” He continued by saying that Atlanta needed to “be the same kind of team that we are at home as on the road.”
It may seem counter intuitive, but scoring goals has also been a problem for Atlanta United, scoring them too early that is. Josef Martinez detailed this unforeseen problem telling reporters, “we’ve started all of those games well on the road. We’ve usually scored first but what we have to do is maintain that calmness and that intensity to be able to keep the leads.” On the one hand, these goals have come before the 20 minute mark in both the match against Vancouver and D.C. United giving those teams ample time to mount a comeback, on the other, it is troubling that Atlanta can’t defend a lead or fight back when trailing in matches like that.
This is a difficult problem to solve. It seems illogical that coach Tata Martino would take players who are capable of getting wins at home out of the lineup when the team travels. It is also flawed to think that changing the tactics that have Atlanta leading the league in scoring. The difference in results may just be a matter of the support from sellout crowds in Atlanta that lifts the team up when it is down not being there on the road. Somehow, United must figure out how to find that mental fortitude that has been missing or they risk missing the playoffs and being eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup.
Anton Walkes is constantly in contact with the coaching staff back at Tottenham. The 20 year old said, “they’ve helped me out quite a bit as well, there’s still a few things I get advice on also” as he develops as a player he added that “it’s all about thinking about how I can improve and the more people you can go to the better it is.” The involvement of the staff, who is on a season long loan from the Premier League club, shows that Walkes has a lot at stake with Atlanta as he focuses on building a career with his sights set on the British top flight.