If it’s any consolation, Atlanta United lost its first ever game last year to the New York Red Bulls before an outstanding season saw it become one of only a handful of teams to make the MLS Cup Playoffs in its first season.
Year two started off with a loss as well, but today, Atlanta didn’t look as if it belonged on the same pitch as the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo struck in the game’s fifth minute - and four times in the opening half - as they won 4-0 on a Saturday afternoon at BBVA Compass Stadium.
It was an absolute shocker from a club that gave up four goals for the first time in its history. With D.C. United coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta’s home opener, Tata Martino and the technical staff have a lot to go over in training next week.
It didn’t take long for the Five Stripes to give up the match’s opening goal. Atlanta’s best defender in the 2017 season was Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, but a failure to defend a ball to the right of the box led to a cross to Andrew Wenger for a fifth-minute Houston goal.
That turned out to be foreshadowing as in the 24th, Houston struck again - this time on a set piece. A bad turnover by Atlanta in the offensive end saw Mauro Manotas break in toward the net and have his attempt stopped by Brad Guzan. On the resulting corner, though, Philippe Senderos headed it in just inside the right post to make it 2-0.
It would grow to 3-0 courtesy of Manotas’ goal just minutes later, and the rout was on. If that wasn’t enough, Houston added a fourth during a seven-minute stoppage time as only one team was in it at the break.
The good news out of this one is probably the fact that Atlanta didn’t concede in the second half, but it was clear by halftime that there was no way back for the visitors. Houston’s speed on the attack - spotlighted by players like Manotas and Alberth Elis - along with poor defending by Atlanta - was showcased throughout the day.
“Today it was difficult for us to defend. It was difficult for us to recover the ball back,” Tata Martino said. “Offensively, we created about the same number of chances as Houston did, but Houston was able to take advantage.
“They have players who are very fast and very dynamic. Elis was difficult for us to defend when he had space. We also made individual mistakes that cost us today and they were able to take advantage of them.”
“We played terrible,” Michael Parkhurst said. “We were second-best on the day in every department and every 50/50 (ball). When you do that on the road against a very good team, this is what happens.”
“We have to turn the page. None of us expected that, the amount of work we put in during the preseason,” said Greg Garza. “I think they played to our lack of attacking ability. When we would lose the ball, we were very slow to react and I think they took advantage of that.”
Both Garza and Martino agreed that - in a way - it was good to get a performance like this out of the way early in the season, rather than in the latter stages.
“Yes, but I would have preferred that it didn’t happen, Martino said. “After the first four minutes I didn’t think the game was going to go like that.”
“Hopefully, yeah,” Garza replied. “Sometimes these games happen during the season, and our game was today.
“We have to definitely be a group now to pick up our heads and have the confidence to go out and hopefully win for the people of Atlanta this week.”