Atlanta United saved their second worst half of soccer for a home game in front of 70,000 fans last weekend. Between missing Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Ezequiel Barco, Atlanta could not create scoring chances while Eric Remedi watched the entire Columbus Crew attack run past him as Florentin Pogba was doing... something? And the result was a flat 3-1 loss. It was an afternoon of missed opportunities and questionable decisions.
If I were a real soccer writer, I would tell you that it is bad to use cliches - this is spelled out in style guides for websites that have rejected my work the world over - but Saturday was truly a Tale Of Two Halves. Atlanta dominated the first 45 with over 70% of the possession but could not turn that into more than one goal or really two or three solid chances. It was the kind of game that seemed like one side would make an adjustment and take the result in the second half. Unfortunately, that team was the Columbus Crew. The second half saw the Ohio team run straight down the middle of the pitch time and again on the counter and the Five Stripes do nothing, absolutely nothing, to adjust to it.
While the loss and the manner in which the team was dispatched, with Gyasi Zardes looking like a savage in the box, was dispiriting, these are not problems that emerged out of nowhere. The move to the 3-5-2 has brought a YOLO quality to the team that Tata Martino approached at times last year, but never saw the kinds of comedy goals that were given up against the Crew materialize. The middle of the field has been for the taking for weeks but Miles Robinson and LGP have been there to make up for it, that wasn’t the case Saturday.
What’s worse is that within 15 minutes it was fairly clear that the second half had gotten away from the team and no adjustments were made until the 70th minute. Even then, the changes were to push more players forward and fling crosses into the box rather than do anything to solidify the midfield. Perhaps Frank de Boer is still figuring out how to adjust this system when things don’t go according to plan, or maybe the team just missed Barco and LGP that badly. In any case, if there’s a formula for beating Atlanta, teams now have it and it will be up to FdB to make the right adjustments.
FC Cincinnati is the worst team in Major League Soccer
That basically sums it up. In their first year in the league, FCC has already let in the most goals in league history. There are still four games left to play and they’ve let in an astounding 70 goals. That’s 2.5 goals a game. For reference, back in my ole 5 a side rec league days a forfeit was registered as a 3-0 loss, FCC has given up three or more goals in 12 games this year - they may as well not have shown up a dozen times in 2019.
MLS has made it a point to let teams into the league in recent years that have severe roster problems, mostly this seems to be something that impacts franchises that are coming up from a lower league into the top flight. Much is said about promotion and relegation in MLS, obviously the league does not have that mechanism, clearly it should, but FCC ran away with the USL Eastern Conference last year. They finished 11 points ahead of the team in second place and given a full off season to plan for entering MLS, they failed miserably at putting together a competitive side. If you were to do a test case for pro/rel in MLS, this would be as close as it would come and it’s been a disaster.
This story has been repeated across other teams that recently joined MLS from lower leagues. Minnesota United took three seasons to field a roster that looked like it belonged in MLS while Orlando City has gotten everything wrong and is managed by James O’Connor. Meanwhile, the teams that have entered the league with a few years to put all of their resources into a decent club have thrived. NYCFC had a misstep or two along the way but are legit contenders this year, 2019 MLS Cup Champions LAFC are setting records in their second year, and Atlanta United is talking about being a “dynasty.”
As far as what to expect from FCC this week, there’s not much to say. They’ve scored 30 goals in 30 games and the defense is awful. This is a midweek game and the team is coming off of a 1-0 win to probably the biggest frauds in the entire league, Montreal, in a game where the Impact allowed a goal in the first minute. Apparently that was enough for Cincy to bunker for 89 minutes and take a point. Arguably, the highlight of the year for the team was the 1-1 draw in Atlanta and there’s no doubt that FCC will give United their best shot as they have little more than pride to play for at this point of the year.
Just avoid the chili
After the game with the Crew there’s not a lot to say going into this game. It’s on the road, but Atlanta should be well able to beat FC Cincinnati. While the team will want to be positive, it seems like any chance at getting the top seed in the East is now out of reach. NYCFC is nine points ahead in the table and while United has a game in hand and a chance at a six point swing in New York left on the schedule, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are getting wins or at least not dropping three points as the season winds down.
The sensible thing to do would be to adjust tactically to the problems that emerged against the Philadelphia Union and Crew. Tightening up the middle of the field is going to be critical for Atlanta United when the playoffs roll around. If the Crew can take advantage of the holes in midfield Atlanta will risk making a team like the New England Revolution look like a squad of 11 Marcus Holmans. Presumably, Atlanta had a week to figure this out during the international break but with short rest between games from here on out, time is dwindling as the post-season looms.