Atlanta United will head into the international break still seeking its first win of the 2019 MLS campaign. However, it was fortunate to gain a point against the Philadelphia Union in a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday evening.
Although Atlanta’s lineup was announced as a 3-4-3 with Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel at the left and right wingback positions, Frank de Boer opted to open the match Nagbe in as an attacking midfielder with Pity Martinez and Tito Villalba, who started in place of Ezequiel Barco, on either side. The shape shifted throughout the match with Michael Parkhurst playing about as far up the pitch as he’s ever played in an Atlanta uniform.
Despite some promising offensive possessions, Atlanta’s first shot on goal of the evening didn’t come until around the 36th minute, and its best chance of the half came in the 38th minute as Josef Martinez clinged one off the post. Philly came inches from breaking the scoreless deadlock in the 40th minute and would have done so without a highlight-reel last-second clearance by Miles Robinson.
But the Union found the first goal of the match early in the second half. In the 47th minute, Brenden Aaronson’s attempt deflected off the calf of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and found its way past a flatfooted Brad Guzan as the 18-year-old scored on his MLS debut. Atlanta, though, just missed tying things in the 58th minute as Josef Martinez took a pass from Julian Gressel but missed an open net with Andre Blake off his lines. Martinez later nearly put in a pretty bicycle kick goal that stood as Atlanta’s first shot on target of the entire match.
Atlanta finally broke through in the 70th minute. Just minutes after being substituted into the match for Villalba, Ezequiel Barco got on the end of a great Gressel cross and knocked in a brilliant header to level the match.
INSTANT. IMPACT. ⚡️— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 18, 2019
Ezequiel Barco wastes no time with a HUGE equalizer! https://t.co/qUf4rneEWX
“I told the team after the game that I had to give (them) a compliment because (it) straightened (its) back and tried to push forward because (Philadelphia) didn’t play those four extra games,” Atlanta coach Frank de Boer said after the match. “We were just missing a little bit of freshness to get a pass to the right man at the right speed. We made too many errors when it wasn’t necessary in my point of view, and I think the reason was because of the freshness that we’re missing right now.”
Despite holding a 71%-29% edge in possession, Atlanta will rue the lack of chances - and goals, for that matter. It’s now scored just two in the first three matches after scoring seven in the first three matches of 2018, and that includes a 0 goal performance to open last season against Houston. All told, Philadelphia had 11 shots to Atlanta’s 12, with the Union putting 3 on target to Atlanta’s 2.
“We’re all frustrated, a little bit,” said Michael Parkhurst. “I don’t think the idea is just to outpossess the team. We’re thinking we want to score goals and be offensive and pin teams in the other half, but it’s not happening right now for us.”
Meanwhile, it was another solid performance in the back for Miles Robinson as he was named man of the match for the second straight game. The 2017 SuperDraft pick didn’t receive a great deal of chances to play under Tata Martino, but has been spectacular in back-to-back 90-minute performances for Atlanta.
“Miles has been fantastic all season long. He’s probably been our best player,” Parkhurst siad. “You could see the talent there in the past couple of years but just didn’t get a huge opportunity to play. He’s taken his opportunity this year and run with it.”
“He’s trained and played and shown his form from the start,” de Boer said. “He’s an unbelievable athlete. When you play against the opponents (he has), you see those players grow. For him it’s a great experience, and we have to treasure that he’s playing at this high level.”
Atlanta United don’t play until March 30 when it travels to take on the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium. Kickoff for that one is set for 7:30 p.m.