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Three thoughts on Atlanta United’s MLS season opening loss to D.C. United

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Blah.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United continued their fledgling tradition of losing their opening match of the MLS season. Their 2-0 defeat away to D.C. United shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you’ve been paying attention these last two-plus seasons. D.C. have had Atlanta’s number and for some reason the Five Stripes have developed a penchant for starting the season off on the wrong foot. Here are a few thoughts on a wet and frustrating night in our nation’s capital.

Half Measures

When the official lineups were announced, I was left scratching my head. Some expected Atlanta to trot out a full-on B team in preparation for their mid-week meeting with Monterrey in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals. Instead there were only two changes, one of which crippled the team’s style of play.

Pity Martinez’s omission makes sense and De Boer had good reasoning, saying that the Argentine’s short preseason was the cause for Tito Villalba replacing him. Sure. Fine.

The second change is what doesn’t make too much sense. Mikey Ambrose, a naturally left-footed left back came in for Julian Gressel.

With 9 of 11 first-choice starters playing from the beginning of the match and the other two logging 30 minutes you still put up a lifeless performance and get thoroughly outplayed. It doesn’t make much sense to rest only two players, handicap your team and lose. If you’re conceding that you need to rest players for the CCL, then you need to commit to doing that instead of taking a half measure and possibly putting yourself at an even bigger disadvantage on Wednesday.

Where’s the Depth?

Squad depth was supposed to be a strength coming into this season, but so far that doesn’t appear to be the case. It also doesn’t help De Boer hads no intentions of using someone like Andrew Carleton off the bench as his late Jeff Larentowicz for Ezequiel Barco substitute suggests.

Where are the reserves who all played together in the preseason? They played as many games as the first team did and have grown familiar with each other for a reason. Injuries and paperwork issues have caused a few players to become unavailable but what about the others?

Was it bad timing or bad luck that left those players unavailable or was it by choice? Whatever the answer, it’s a concerning proposition for the remainder of the season, especially in this beginning stretch while the team is dealing with multiple obligations.

Toothless Attack

The most concerning part about this match wasn’t the mistakes. Brad Guzan had a howler. Brek Shea came crashing back down to earth after a promising mid-week performance. Michael Parkhurst let Luciano Acosta boss him around in the penalty area on the corner kick that led to the first goal. All of those mistakes can and probably will be fixed as players round into form.

The concerning part was how ineffective the attack was as a whole for the majority of the match. Mikey Ambrose playing right wingback meant the team had zero attacking threat down that side of the field. In his 60 minutes he managed to get to the endline once and put a cross in.

Whether that imbalance in the formation was the cause of the team’s impotency in front of goal remains to be seen. Things improved slightly when Julian Gressel entered the match, but not by much.

Tito Villalba had one great effort (as he usually does) but otherwise was disappointing in his big chance to start. Too often his first touch let him down or he made the wrong decisions.

Pity Martinez still looks off the pace of everyone else and appears to be lacking chemistry.

Ezequiel Barco had a few good moments where he got into dangerous spots with some nifty dribbling but still didn’t manage to make much of those chances.

Josef Martinez was frustrated all night and his play showed it.

Overall it was just a dismal night and the attack suffered greatly. Here’s to hoping they figure it out ahead of Monterrey.