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Five Thoughts on Atlanta United’s wild 3-2 loss to Toronto FC

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A flurry of goals, penalties and VAR drama

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Pity Martinez has not been good enough, period

Quite simply, Atlanta United is certainly not getting the production out of Pity Martinez that the team thought it’d be seeing coming into the season. He’s a player of prodigious skill and talent, but he seems physically overmatched in MLS. To be fair to him, I think he’s getting somewhat of a raw deal from referees this season who allow defenders to manhandle him. But “El Pity” needs to anticipate this and figure out a way to adjust his game to a more physical league, and so far that simply hasn’t happened.

Maybe the most concerning thing about Pity is the lack of physical explosiveness from the Argentine. He’s not the type of player who’s going to blow past an opposing fullback or make runs in behind to get in goalscoring positions in the box. In a way, he needs a team with very specific qualities to be constructed around him. That’s not a luxury many MLS teams can afford with the way teams’ hands are tied by MLS’s draconian squad-building restrictions. Those struggles are compounded when the team is already missing key players like Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. But on the other hand, the reason you bring in a player like Pity is the hope that he can “grab the game by the scruff of the neck” and carry the team to victory with special moments, and those just aren’t happening right now.

I still think Martinez is capable of extraordinary things and I don’t think he’s a less talented player than he was when he was named the South American Player of the Year. It remains to be seen if he will ever produce the amount of goals and assists that is expected of him in Atlanta, but the bottom line is that it’s not happening now, and the lack of production is hampering the team.

We’ve never seen anything like that ending before in the sport

We nearly had a “the band is on the field” moment at the end of Wednesday night’s game as the match was declared over by center ref Alan Kelly... that is, before everyone was forced to return to the BMO Field pitch for what would be a “walk-off penalty kick” situation thanks to VAR assisting Kelly in determining a handball offense was committed in the final action of the game. The penalty was missed, so it didn’t end up factoring into the result, but the moment still felt somewhat historic.

What to do about Andrew Carleton?

Wednesday night started with a bang an hour prior to kickoff when Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution alerted us that the reason that Atlanta United was short one player on the bench was because of...

There’s lots to unpack here, and I know it’ll all be discussed in the coming days. For now I’ll just say this: The fact that this information got out speaks volumes. We’ll see if he makes future matchday squads, but this is the kind of lack of professionalism that will drive Frank de Boer — a perfectionist — up a wall. Carleton still has a lot of soccer ahead of him, I’m just afraid that it won’t (and probably shouldn’t) be in Atlanta.

Assessing Vazquez’s first career start

Brandon Vazquez’s first career start was a mixed bag to say the least. The young striker made himself very useful throughout the match, both getting into dangerous positions and working hard defensively. He did very well to assist Atlanta’s second goal. Though he wasn’t officially given the assist on the play, it was his well-executed cross that eventually lead to Julian Gressel’s goal from the doorstep.

On the other side of the coin, Vazquez failed to capitalize on a couple goalscoring opportunities, especially a couple attempts late in the match that could’ve sealed the game for the visitors. Taking the performance as a whole though — and understanding that this is a reserve player — Vazquez did more than I would’ve expected from Romario Williams, at least based on recent performances. It’s a game that Vazquez can build on, as he did a lot more right than wrong... it’s just unfortunate he wasn’t able to deliver the dagger when the team needed it.

The Five Stripes lacked fitness

It was clear that this Atlanta United team is not at its peak from a physical standpoint. Julian Gressel, usually a player that can always be counted on to go 90 minutes, needed a sub late after having not played a single minute of competitive soccer since June 1. But others like Michael Parkhurst, Pity, and Dion Pereira didn’t look up to their normal standards either. It’s a tough one for the coaching staff to manage. Ideally, you’d like to keep your players in intense training sessions during down periods to keep fitness up. But after having endured such a physically strenuous month of May, and with July about to be just as hectic, this team needed a break. Unfortunately when you rest, you lose fitness, but thankfully that fitness should come back quickly as the matches will return thick and fast.