In Atlanta United’s short-but-wonderful history, there have been plenty of descriptive words used in order to let people know what this team is all about. We’ve all seen the positives — stuff like dynamic, electric, scintillating, exciting, ambitious. There are even some of the negatives that you usually hear from opposing fans, which run the gamut from simply being annoying to whatever you’ll hear from New York and Orlando when they tell you to talk about our team.
No matter what happened on the pitch, though, you almost never heard any of the following adjectives in the past when it came to Atlanta United: Boring, dull, mediocre, and undisciplined. Those are the accurate words that you could’ve used to describe the game that Atlanta United played on Thursday morning against FC Cincinnati. If you missed the game due to the early start time, then I’m actually envious of you that you only got to hear about it instead of actually watching it. Let me tell you, you didn’t miss out on much of anything good from Atlanta United in that game. If you don’t believe me, then one glance at this chart should be proof enough.
Woof. Now, you can take as many snipes at Frank de Boer and his decisions as you want. This was a poor game from everybody involved with Atlanta United and ultimately, the manager should be the one who takes the most criticism at the end of the day. The team never really looked threatening over an extended run of play, and the only glimmers of hope on the attack came from a few flashes of potential every now and then. George Bello being dropped entirely seemed like a bizarre move from the start. While the substitutions during the game were a product of an extremely adverse tactical situation, those particular decisions also felt a little strange and the logic was hard to follow. It felt like Atlanta United was never really off to the races and this early bit of embarrassment for Pity Martinez was a bad omen for things to come.
Picking up where we left off last night: pic.twitter.com/r5piXNwSPn— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) July 16, 2020
With that being said, Atlanta United was basically cooked the moment that Jake Mulraney took two indescribably bad yellows in just 26 minutes. That moment changed the game and basically scuttled any game plan that de Boer may have had for this one. Both of the fouls were foolish and frustratingly avoidable. You could argue that Mulraney was simply getting stuck in and setting the tone for a physical game early on. It was still a dangerous challenge that deserved a yellow, but you could at least defend him there.
The second yellow in particular was just indefensible. The back line was getting back to defend whatever Joe Gyau was going to do with the ball should he have taken possession at that point. There was no reason for Mulraney to throw out a professional foul there, and the poor decision-making on his part ended up costing Atlanta United in a major way.
From that point forward, Atlanta would’ve been fortunate to get a point with the way things were going. For better or worse, Frank de Boer’s strategy appeared to be something akin to playing a patient game where they would eventually start wearing down Cincinnati’s defensive strategy both tactically and physically due to the oppressive Florida heat. Instead, the game turned into a survival mission and it showed in the way both teams played for the rest of the game. Atlanta fell into a 4-4-1 formation while Cincinnati (strangely enough) still seemed content with just grabbing a point and heading back to the hotel — that is, until Frankie Amaya unleashed a thunderbolt for what turned out to be the winner.
The rest of the game was a far cry from what we’re used to seeing from the Five Stripes. The club has built a reputation for playing entertaining soccer, even when things are going poorly. There wasn’t really anything to be entertained with from the guys in red-and-black, as this was a true downer of a game from start to finish. It’s hard not to feel down when you wait four months to see your favorite team return to the pitch and they score a grand total of zero goals over their first two games back in action — especially with Josef Martinez’s injury continuing to loom over the club. It’s a huge bummer and it’s definitely understandable to be frustrated by what we’ve seen from Atlanta United here in the restart tournament.
The good news is that it’s still pretty early in the grand scheme of things. Although the game against the Red Bulls wasn’t great, it was at least a loss that you could chalk up to the Red Bulls being the Red Bulls. This game just seems like a wash and the manager’s comments after the game reflect that. If that’s the truly the case, then the best thing that the team can do is to just wipe it from memory and focus on coming up with a cohesive game plan for what figures to be a very tough Columbus Crew side.
Now, Atlanta will absolutely have to play better and the tactics will also have to be better in the next game for Atlanta United to have a chance of winning their final group stage game in this tournament. Even if things do get better and we see some MLS wackiness lead to Atlanta United bouncing back in a major way against the Crew, it’s pretty clear that the team is going to need to go back to the drawing board going forward. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around and hopefully we won’t see Atlanta United throw away any more games in just under half an hour.