Ten minutes into Atlanta United’s match in Vancouver, things were looking up for the away side. Seeking their third consecutive victory, the Five Stripes jumped all over a rattled Whitecaps side early, getting a seventh minute goal from Greg Garza to reward them for their hard work. But things change quickly in soccer. And this much was clear after the final whistle sent AUFC home as 3-1 losers.
Tata Martino and company will be especially aggrieved at the nature of the defeat. After all, the home side scored all three of their goals from corner kicks. And more disturbingly, all three came as a result of inexcusable defensive mistakes from Atlanta.
You’ll often hear players and coaches say it’s the “second ball” that’s hardest to defend after a corner or set piece. While teams have plenty of time to get organized before a corner or free kick, it’s the second cross after the defense clears their lines that can be dangerous, as it forces the defense to quickly re-organize, and deal with another ball into the box. We see all of those factors at play in Vancouver’s first goal.
While readying for the second ball may not be the easiest task, the defending here is nevertheless quite poor. Just look at the team’s positioning before the cross comes from Andrew Jacobson.
The back line should be pushing up as one, with the center halves holding an even line and keeping an eye out for runners. Instead, they do none of those things. Leandro González Pirez is especially at fault, as he gets caught ball-watching and loses track of his fellow center half, standing without purpose in front of Michael Parkhurst when they should be holding the line as one. If Pirez is in the correct spot, he is in a position to defend Jacobson’s cross. Left back Greg Garza should also be with his back four, just as right back Tyrone Mears is on the opposite side. But he initially bombs forward once Miguel Almirón comes close to winning the ball back, and then gets caught ball- watching instead of looking to recover defensively.
At the very least, proper organization prevents Kendall Waston from having the time to take the ball down off his chest, and then finish. While you have to give props to the Costa Rican for a brilliantly taken goal, it’s poor defensive organization and awareness that play just as big a part in the end result.
While the first goal may have come from a lack of situational awareness, the second goal comes much in part due to lackadaisical defending from González Pirez. We can see below that LGP has clearly been assigned to Gaston on the corner.
And then, this happens.
One must wonder why the Argentine feels the need to back into the prodigious Waston, who can easily jump over him and win the ball. Even more puzzling is his decision to not even go up for the aerial challenge, making his marker’s work easy.
As we’ve seen from the first goal, a lack of awareness can cause a team to concede from these situations. But here, it’s simply a poor individual effort from Pirez that does the damage.
Poor organization resulted in the first goal. A lack of effort and desire cost Atlanta on the second. And it was a mix of both that resulted in Vancouver’s third.
At first, United are in a perfect position to deal with Christian Bolaños’ corner.
Pirez has Waston marked tightly, while Asad and Tyrone Mears read the play well, and collapse on the Vancouver center half as the ball approaches. Kenwyne Jones, who had just subbed on, is in his usual spot picking up runners coming into the 6-yard box, and he has Tim Parker contained.
But again, things don’t go well once the ball arrives.
Pirez again tries to body Waston, rather than challenging for the header. Elsewhere, Asad can’t reach Waston in time, while Mears backs away from the play. Mean time, Jones switches off completely, not reacting whatsoever to Waston’s header as Parker comes behind him unmarked (the goal was initially given to Freddy Montero, but later credited to Parker, as his header crossed the line).
While the three goals all represent poor defensive execution, this one takes the cake. Already a marked man with two goals in the match, Waston still manages to win the ball up against three Atlanta defenders, while Jones doesn’t even move as Parker sneaks in for an easy finish.
AUFC deservedly conceded three times from corners. And it could’ve been more, as several other attempts made Alec Kann sweat.
Atlanta may have controlled the possession and tempo for long periods last weekend. But they were ultimately done in by simply losing focus time and time again when facing corner kicks, effectively reversing any sort of control they may have had over the run of play. And to add insult to injury, it was merely one player in Waston who created all three goals from these situations.
Giving up goals from counter attacks when the team is caught high up the pitch is one thing, and these types of defensive vulnerabilities are just part of the deal for an Atlanta team that want to attack. But this was not the reason for Atlanta conceding three times in Vancouver. Instead, Atlanta lost the match in areas where the team was in position to make the play defensively, but were neither organized nor committed enough to do so.