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Five thoughts on Atlanta United sleepwalking its way to victory over Philadelphia Union

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It wasn’t pretty.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United did not play well

Three points, grit, win when you don’t play your best, etc... I get it. It’s always good when you win. But Atlanta did not play very well either before or after the flurry of cards and the penalty handed out around the 23rd minute. Tata Martino said as much after the match in his post game press conference.

“I think that if this game had been 11 on 11 it would have been a difficult game. I have the thought that it’s even possible that we lose this game if it’s 11 on 11,” Martino said. “It’s concerning when a team isn’t intelligent to play 11 versus nine, to circulate the ball from side to side and get a lot of people in the box to finish the play. I have the feeling that we played more individually then collectively when we were up two players.”

Atlanta United played with very low energy

Typically, you assume that when your team goes up by two players, you will — by the power of the soccer gods — be permitted to jog around the field at your leisure and by gifted a win of at least three goals. Well, that’s not how it works and Atlanta United found that out after a fairly lackluster display. Michael Parkhurst pointed this out postgame:

“We were up two guys, and we just took our foot off the pedal. In the first half especially, we were trying to do it individually. We were dribbling too much, not moving the ball quick enough and we weren’t sharp enough. We were kind of like, oh, we’re up two guys. We can take it easy and cruise. Philly dug in and defended well. They had a lot of energy and made it difficult for us.”

This is out of character for Atlanta, which is typically the team that is putting the opposition on its heels with its speed and dynamism. Maybe it was the added humidity with the open roof. Maybe it was the midweek match played only three days prior. But whatever it was, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen an Atlanta United team play quite like this in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta’s shot selection was problematic

Once it had it’s lead and two-man advantage, Atlanta had chance after chance in the first half but failed to add to its lead by halftime. Atlanta fired at goal an astonishing 14 times in the first half, but Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was only forced into four saves. And the saves that he did make were generally easy efforts since Atlanta typically shot from tight angles. The Five Stripes would’ve been better served making the one or two extra passes to turn an average scoring chance into a good one. They did this more in the second half, and Martino agreed, saying the team did more good things to take advantage of the two-man advantage by moving the ball from side to side and forcing Philadelphia to run. But overall it was not great offensive play from Atlanta.

Josef Martinez is one of the best strikers in MLS history

Saturday, Josef Martinez tied Stern John and Diego Serna as the strikers with the most hat tricks in their careers in MLS.

Josef Martinez has played in 34 games.

It’s an incredible accomplishment by Martinez, but it also speaks to the effectiveness of the team as a whole. Critics will point to the fact that many of Josef’s goals have been penalties or scored when Atlanta had a man advantage. Those things aren’t random. Atlanta United creates those opportunities for Josef to convert.

The critics will also say that Josef can’t be considered an MLS great because he’s only played 34 games. I’d argue that his short tenure in the league is only a further testament of his greatness. It’s more impressive that he’s produced at this level in this amount of games, not less.

A huge month begins

The saving grace of the win, despite the mediocre performance, is that it gives Atlanta a good springboard and some positivity going into a crazy slate of games coming up in June. Without even looking at U.S. Open Cup play (which, for Atlanta, begins Wednesday against the Charleston Battery), Atlanta’s next two league matches are tough ones — on the road at NYCFC in an early Saturday kickoff (12:30 p.m.) followed by another match on the road just three days later against the surging Columbus Crew. The month is closed out with two home games, but neither are gimmies against the red hot Portland Timbers and an intense rivalry match with Orlando. Strap in folks.