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5 Thoughts: Atlanta United fails to capitalize in race for Supporters’ Shield

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The New York Red Bulls maintain its lead in the East.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This was a bad loss, but let’s not panic

I know, I know, panic and depression after a night like Sunday is a natural reaction. Atlanta United entered the game with more rest than the opponent, in better form than the opponent, with two straight wins against the opponent, and basically every other metric that would give an Atlanta fans confidence heading into the game.

And then, that confident feeling in your chest was ripped out and held in front of your face so you could see how black it was before you died. So the natural reaction is to think that the world is indeed ending and there’s no point in going on. Please, step away from the ledge.

Atlanta is fine. Relatively speaking. Sure they’re not in as good of a position as they could be, but they are a point back of Red Bulls with a game in hand. Atlanta’s next two games are against the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Quakes. It’s all to play for. And even if they’d won, Atlanta was always going to need to get a result when they play Red Bulls in New York on September 30th.

The soft goals Atlanta concedes will cost them in the playoffs

Once again, Atlanta failed to keep a clean sheet, even conceding goals during periods of play when they were dominating. Sadly, it’s a recurring issue for the Five Stripes. Tata Martino’s system requires players to play on the edge and take chances, but goals like the one conceded in the first half in D.C. Sunday night have nothing to do with system. They have to do with concentration. We saw Atlanta drop points when they lost concentration in Dallas and at home vs. Toronto, just to name a couple instances. Some goals, even if allowed via individual mistake, can be forgiven. Goals like D.C.’s first cannot. If Atlanta wants to win MLS Cup, it simply can’t concede these types of goals. Goals are much harder to come by in the playoffs, and when you give away goals because a player loses concentration and fails to track a runner, well, you’re just digging your own grave.

What’s the deal with Ezequiel Barco?

Upon the referee blowing the whistle for full time, my timeline became inundated with criticism of Ezequiel Barco, who committed a penalty that changed the confidence of the team and the tide of the game in the second half. Upon further review, Barco, was ~fine, technically speaking. He created six chances (passes leading to shots), three of which came in open play and all lead to shots from very close range. Wayne Rooney, Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel all tied for the next most chances created with two each. He was 24/28 passing in the final third. He generally played decent, so why the hate?

I get it. Barco is a frustrating player right now in his career. When he’s dispossessed, which he was four times Sunday night, he puts his head down and doesn’t fully commit to winning the ball back. The bad things that happen to him during a game—and they happen to all players—seem to affect him more than most. You can see the disappointment on his face and it shows in his pitiful actions after the ball doesn’t bounce his way. One small drop of the head and moment of sulking can lead to the opposition comfortably recovering possession, or worse, springing a counter attack. Barco wasn;t fully committed to defend either (he only had one ball recovery) and it cost Leandro Gonzalez Pirez a yellow card (at which point LGP visibly voiced his displeasure with Barco).

So, Barco has talent. But he’s lacking in the intangibles that a player needs to succeed at the highest levels in the sport. Fortunately, he’s only 19, and it’s predictable that if a player of his ilk were to lack in a certain area, it would be these mental attributes. He will need to learn and grow to be a more level-headed player on the pitch if he wants to play at levels beyond Atlanta United and MLS. Fortunately, he has time on his side.

The disappointment of the result will overshadow the performance

The disappointment of the night is understandably difficult to uncouple from the way the team played on the field, but—and I know many of you don’t want to hear this—Atlanta was in control for basically the entire first half. The game undoubtedly turned after the Barco’s penalty sent D.C. United on top and left Atlanta pushing aggressively for the equalizer. But looking at the shot charts for both teams, you can see which team was in control for most of the match.

This isn’t to say Atlanta played well. They didn’t, and what D.C.’s chances lacked in quantity, most if not all were legit chances that challenged goalkeeper Brad Guzan. But still, looking at Atlanta’s shot chart, it’s unfortunate that only one shot saw the back of the net. If Remedi’s shot from close range after a pass from Barco isn’t deflected over the bar early in the match, thing’s could’ve finished much differently. It’s only worth pointing out so that, again, you reconsider ending it all and decide you’d like to live to see Atlanta play another match.

Happy International Break!

Now we get to marinate in this result for two weeks. Fun times.