After four long months of waiting and dreaming about how our Hometown Heroes in red and black stripes would return to the field and humiliate the long-hated New York Red Bulls with a 5-0 win... well, that’s not what happened.
In fact, it was the opposite of that — a 0-1 loss. A Josef Martinez-less Atlanta United was like a eunuch in a brothel — chances aplenty, but just couldn’t score.
The match couldn’t have started much worse for Atlanta. Red Bulls grabbed the opener in just the 5th minute when Kaku played a superb pass in to Florian Valot, who’d glided behind Fernando Meza. With George Bello out of defensive position, Valot had plenty of time to pick out his finish to beat Brad Guzan.
The work hardly stopped for Guzan who went on to make two highly impressive saves to keep Atlanta within striking distance in the first half.
With five minutes remaining in the half, Atlanta had it’s best chance to level the scoreline as George Bello unleashed a screamer that drilled the woodwork. George is not allowed to have nice things, apparently.
The second half was a bit messier as both teams’ energy faded in the hellish Orlando humidity. Still, Atlanta slowly forced Red Bulls deeper and deeper into their own half as they clung onto the 1-goal lead and the crucial three points that come with it. Adam Jahn was cruelly denied an equalizer in the game’s final seconds.
Man of the Match
Despite the hard work of Pity Martinez and Bello’s shot off the woodwork, the player that gave Atlanta United a chance at all to win the match was goalkeeper Brad Guzan. None of his three saves on the night were easy, and all of them kept Atlanta afloat in the match.
Frank de Boer was surprisingly optimistic after the match, saying that he thought his team was the better one on the whole. He admitted that they were fortunate not to be punished more in the moments the team lost concentration or made mistakes, but it was clear that de Boer thought his team was generally in more control of the match. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with Manuel Castro up front. While Castro made some smart runs and got into some good positions, the finishing instinct clearly wasn’t there. Atlanta United’s new signing Erik Lopez will surely assume the role when he joins the team after the tournament, but until then, de Boer will have to do the best with what he has available.
Guzan was frustrated. He’s always frustrated after a loss, but it was clear that he thought the team’s shape was just not tight enough and things were just a little too sloppy in both technique and positioning. Of course, that’s to be expected in a game like this. These teams haven’t played a competitive match in months, and Atlanta United in particular was working with several players such as Castro, Matheus Rossetto, Mo Adams and George Bello that haven’t had regular run with the first team.
All of this sets Atlanta up for a pressure-packed game against FC Cincinnati, a team they beat in the last soccer match played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Cincy is likely to lose to the Columbus Crew (they’re currently 2-0 down at the time of publishing), and the result will go a long way in determining whether Atlanta will be participating beyond the group stage in MLS is Back.