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Five Thoughts: Atlanta United see Supporters’ Shield slip away in 4-1 loss to Toronto FC

Let the Schadenfreude begin.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Did Atlanta choke?

On the one hand, it’s hard to say a team “choked” when they only fall short to one other team, and that team also had the best record the the league has ever witnessed. On the other hand, taking into account the manner of the defeat—a complete capitulation—it’s hard to accept. Listen to Tata:

“Today, the reality is that we should have had a different type of performance, Martino told reporters. “I think we betrayed ourselves because indefinitely it’s what we were talking about. A lot of effort since January 15 until today for 90 minutes is like throwing away a year’s effort. It’s clear that losing to Toronto away from home is a possibility, but what stands out is the way it happened.”

“Play the game, not the occasion”

Chris McCann stressed to media this week that the key to the team’s success in Toronto would be how they handle the emotions that come along with playing in a “final”—with silverware on the line. Easier said than done, I suppose. Atlanta played like a team playing in it’s first “final” together, looking anxious, uncertain of one another and tentative. The result was a very different-looking team than much of what we’ve seen this season. The problem was exacerbated by conceding a goal so early in the game. As if these mental issues were bad enough, the team was compelled to do more hard running early in the match. This needless physical wear hurt the team as a whole. Franco Escobar, bless him, was sprinting 100 miles-per-hour the entire first half, and was completely worn out at times when he needed to make a recovery sprint or close down an opponent. It was sloppy.

Prepare yourself for the Schaudenfreude

Atlanta United’s match on Decision Day was billed nationally as one that would determine whether Atlanta was arguably one of the best teams in MLS history or an unmitigated failure. Admittedly, it’s a wide range. In reality, Atlanta is somewhere in the middle—a very good MLS squad that’s been further leveraged by its benevolent ownership that has poured resources in every manner permissible. It’s a team and a club to be proud of, even in shit moments like we’re experiencing right now.

But in the Twitter Age, sports are about more than wins, losses, elation and heartbreak. It’s about Schaudenfreude. It’s about making oneself feel good, or even profiting, off of others’ misery—because it’s funny, because it’ll fulfills one’s need for validation, because some people have nothing else in their lives. Brace yourselves, because it’s coming for your timeline. You will be tempted to defend yourself, to defend the honor of the club or the individuals that comprise it. I ask you: please don’t. When Matt Doyle, an employee of MLS, tells you the league’s all-time leading scorer is “poop-scooting across the rug for two months,” just do what I do: bitch about it to a friend in private.

What’s the prognosis, doc?

It’s.... it’s not great. Heading into MLS Cup Playoffs, Atlanta is a team that’s struggling. And don’t just take my word for it, Tata Martino himself admits that the team has not played well since it’s win over Real Salt Lake in late September. And that’s pure physical form. That doesn’t take into account the mental state this team finds itself in to bounce back from such a devastating loss.

“The Supporters Shield was a big goal of ours,” Michael Parkhurst told reporters after the match. “We haven’t been quiet about that. We wanted to go out there and win it for a long time now. We put ourselves in a good position to do that but we just didn’t show up today when it was the biggest game.”

It will be much easier for the players to say “we have to bounce back” than to, y’know, actually bounce back.

Atlanta United is still learning to fly

The famous Foo Fighters’ hit song appropriately rang out at halftime from the BMO Field speakers. Atlanta United in only it’s second year of existence didn’t look like the same team we saw cruise through the monotony that is the MLS regular season. They looked like a team that was uncomfortable, unsure of themselves and overly anxious in what was a momentous occasion.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. Tata Martino told media this week about the building process that has started, but certainly not finished in Atlanta. Sunday’s match was a perfect representation of the crucible that forges talented teams into winners.

“Atlanta, in only our second year as a club, we’re learning how to compete in the regular season and playoffs,” Martino told reporters Friday. “Next year the club will have to learn how to compete in CONCACAF Champions League. So there are things clubs need to go through.”

Trust the process, or something like that.