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Five thoughts on Atlanta United’s MLS is Back group opening loss

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At least soccer is back?

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United dropped their first competitive match in four months to the New York Red Bulls, 1-0, to open Group E play at the MLS is Back Tournament. A fourth minute goal from Florian Valot was enough for the Red Bulls to come away with all three points and put the Five Stripes in an early hole to dig out of.

The circumstances surrounding MLS’s return to play are clearly weird. Here is my attempt to throw some measured and tempered opinions against the wall after Atlanta’s first 90 minutes in what seems like an eternity.

  • After watching the entire match and doing some heavy reflecting, I’m still clueless as to what exact formation and system the team was attempting to play. Was it the 3-4-2-1 we saw early in the season? If so, who the heck was playing striker? Was it some weird three-back/false nine combination? Was it a two-striker set up with Matheus Rossetto playing behind Pity Martinez and Manuel Castro? I still honestly have no idea and I like to think I have a decent eye for these types of things. The whole feel of the match had a very preseason vibe to it, despite the league deeming it a real and important fixture.
  • No matter what the actual system was, it was clear that the overall understanding from the 11 that started for Atlanta was not there. The gaping holes left in the back from defenders being pushed way too far up were easily taken advantage of early. Franco Escobar was the victim who lost possession high up the field on the right flank for the game’s only goal. Once the ball changed hands, Atlanta only managed to have two players back in Miles Robinson and Fernando Meza. The midfield pairing of Emerson Hyndman and Mo Adams were caught out, while George Bello had pushed very high on the opposite side in anticipation of an attacking sequence. The Red Bulls had no trouble hitting the massive hole through the center for the easy opening goal.
  • The attacking end was even more disjointed. Despite controlling an abundance of the possession, there was very little in the way of chances created in the first half. George Bello, who was arguably the team’s most threatening attacking player in the opening 45 minutes, smacked the crossbar with the best chance of the half. The second half saw a slight improvement in chances, but unfortunately the lack of true goalscoring options on the field proved costly. Castro in particular had two golden chances to tie the match, but was unable to get either of his attempts on target.
  • As the match went on, one bright spot was Pity Martinez who was seemingly all over the field, trying to single-handedly will the Five Stripes back into the game. He set up several good chances with some lovely service into the box, but again the final product was lacking. This trend was to be expected without the team’s top scoring threat out with injury. Solving this finishing issue will likely be the key to Atlanta’s season going forward.
  • Despite the lackluster performance and bitter result, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fact that we’re even able to talk about these things again. It was an incredibly long four months without Atlanta United in our lives. Who knows what the future holds, so lets enjoy this while we can, even if the outcome wasn’t what we’d all hoped for.

Side note: I went this whole post without mentioning Darlington Nagbe. I will await your unconditional praise in the comments.