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Positive response vital for Atlanta United heading into match vs. Philadelphia Union

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They need to put Wednesday’s events behind them.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Disappointment. Shock. Frustration. Anger.

You could see the emotion written on the faces of Atlanta United players after Alan Kelly’s final whistle ended its match at FC Dallas on Wednesday. After holding a 2-1 lead with about five minutes left in regular time, Tesho Akindele scored twice to turn the tide and help the home side to a stunning win, its fifteenth straight non-losing result at Toyota Stadium.

It was a shocking late game performance by United, one that we’ve rarely seen in its short history in a match that it should have seen out regardless of who you hold at fault in the end. It could have opened up an eight-point lead over the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference (despite the Red Bulls’ three matches in hand) and put itself five points clear of Dallas in the Supporters’ Shield race (with Dallas holding two games in hand).

“To give away a game like that is just frustrating. I don’t really know what to say,” Julian Gressel remarked afterwards, according to Atlanta United media relations. “We didn’t reward ourselves because we played a good game and came back from a goal down on a set piece, which happens.”

“I’m at a loss for words for what happened on that (third Dallas) goal,” said Mikey Ambrose, who had 40 friends and family in the stands in his return to his home state of Texas. “A lack of concentration and a lack of discipline in the last five minutes.”

You don’t even need to physically watch the interviews to read the emotions. And the message was clear: this was unacceptable. It should be, considering the way this team has played on the road; it was its first losing away result since, interestingly enough, its last trip to the Lone Star State, an embarrassing 4-0 season-opening loss to the Houston Dynamo on March 3. The good news: it was able to bounce back, picking up 17 out of a possible 21 away points before Wednesday’s loss.

Which brings us to Saturday’s match at Philadelphia. Yes, the Five Stripes beat them 3-1 at the Benz on June 2, but looking at the bigger picture of that one, it should have been much more. The Union were down two men for 70 minutes, but Atlanta’s failure to convert on key chances kept the visitors in it until Josef Martinez’ penalty in the 83rd minute to give himself a hat trick was enough to push United to the finish.

Fortunately, this has been a group that has been able to respond after a loss or a dropped points situation this year.

You have to go back to last year to find the last time the team dropped two matches in a row: June 3 and 10 away to the Vancouver Whitecaps and Chicago Fire, respectively.

Wednesday’s result doesn’t change anything about Atlanta United: it’s still a very good team. It shouldn’t have been in the situation it was in against FC Dallas, but they’ll need to prove that they’re good enough to overcome that, get themselves in the right mindset and get a needed win over the Union before coming home to what should be a near-capacity crowd against the Seattle Sounders on July 15.