Late goals are becoming something of a theme for Atlanta United. Of the 44 goals the team has scored, 12 have come after the 76th minute and four of those have been put in the net over the last five games. Those goals helped earn six points, five on the road, over the five games. More importantly, at home against Orlando and away to Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia, the late goals helped rescue a point when a loss seemed inevitable.
Obviously, it doesn’t really matter when the team scores goals, but Atlanta United has undoubtedly struggled over the recent stretch of five games. The Five Stripes have relied on late heroics to steal points rather than playing like a dominant team that looks sure to win games and is seemingly relying on luck to get results.
It might be concerning that the team is pulling points out of thin air, but coach Tata Martino, Chris McCann, and Tyrone Mears gave a different perspective to reporters after last night’s 2-2 draw in Philadelphia. Away matches are notoriously difficult in MLS and sometimes it just takes persistence when the game plan isn’t working. Asked if the team was concerned that results have come from late goals recently, Mears told reporters that the players weren’t because, “we look at the fighting spirit coming back. Obviously going down is difficult away from home but you saw we kept going until the end.”
The late goals also show an improvement in the focus and concentration that the team has as opposed to games they fell behind in earlier this year. Ugly losses away to and at home to DC United and on the road to the Vancouver Whitecaps and NYCFC were all the more painful because the team just seemed to wilt once they fell behind. Chris McCann credited the improved mindset of the team in stealing points recently, saying, “I think it shows how mentally tough we are that for 90 minutes we keep going.” In recent games, Atlanta at least had a chance to draw or even beat opponents and that’s not something that can be said of the team in those losses early in the season.
When asked about the late game heroics Tata Martino had a little fun with reporters telling them after the game, “you can’t always choose when you score goals.” All jokes aside, he drew a positive from the recent results, saying “the good thing for us is the guys are always fighting, they were fighting all game.”
Even in the loss to DC United, Atlanta had a late chance to steal a draw when a cross that flashed in front of Bill Hamid’s goal was nearly poked in by Josef Martinez. As Tata noted, “the positive thing for us is that it shows the guys are trying to attack the whole game.” At the very least, if the team’s play on the field is lacking, the late goals show that they are not giving up on the game and illustrate the improved attitude that the team is bringing into its matches.
With a shorter break coming up before opening a six match home stand, Atlanta United will have time to work out why the attack is misfiring. Just having home field advantage again will help address that. In addition, the fact that the players’ mental attitude has improved and is keeping the team close in tough matches is a benefit going forward. Playing eight games over three weeks will be a challenge physically for Atlanta United and the team will need every bit of mental strength over that course of time to reach its goal of making the playoffs.