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Three takeaways from Atlanta United’s MLS is Back tournament run

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Back to the drawing board

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

After a dismal MLS is Back performance Atlanta United face a tough mid-season break full of questions. Once one of the favorites to win the the tournament, Atlanta was easily defeated and recorded some of its worst performances in the club’s brief history. With the Fives Stripes now going fishing, here are the top three takeaways from the tournament:

Atlanta is nothing without Josef Martinez

Now before you say “thanks, captain obvious,” it’s important to recognize the club has played without Josef before. But even in those situations, the Five Stripes never played this poorly all over the field and seeing how players such as Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco failed to step up highlight just how dependent the club is on Martinez. And not only did the goalscoring production evaporate during this tournament, but there was just as much of a vacuum of leadership. Brad Guzan’s comments after the game highlight this.

“You talk about identity. In these three games and can even go back to the Club America game, that’s not who we are as a club,” said Guzan after the loss. “That’s not what we are about as a team. There’s got to be change. There’s got to be some sort of change on the field. There’s got to be communication, conversations but then there has to be a response to that.”

While fans are calling for the head of Frank de Boer, the lack of production will have some fans also questioning the moves of the front office. The players that were brought in during the offseason didn’t help offset the loss of Josef in any way.

Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco failed when needed most

In 2019, the DP duo combined for only nine goals and just 13 assists putting scrutiny on the players themselves and the front office. When Atlanta finished short of repeating as champions, there were questions if the duo could lead them to more success in the future, or if it was time to cut losses. When Josef went down in Nashville, eyes turned to them to step up and lead the club. Prior to that game, when Atlanta United beat Motagua in Concacaf Champions League, it seemed like things were heading in the right direction.

“Last year wasn’t my best season.” Martinez conceded. “My head wasn’t where it needed to be.”

“This is the version of Pity that you want to see,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “It’s a Pity who is feeling confident and comfortable. This is the version that all of you guys wanted to see.”

While no one expected Pity and Barco to be exactly like Josef, they were expected to step up for the tournament. Both fell well short of expectations as both failed to get anything going in Atlanta’s attack, as evidenced by the team’s goal tally of 0 for the entire tournament. Overall, the pair have had their ups and downs, but haven’t been the standout players they were predicted to be at one point.

Frank de Boer’s seat is hot

When some called for De Boer’s firing in the past, I wrote it off as both irrational and fans being spoiled by past success. But after last night’s shocking elimination, the seat of De Boer is warming up very quickly. It isn’t just that the team lost, but how they never seemed to improve after the previous matches, and never looked like a team capable of even advancing to the knockout stage

After Columbus Crew struck first blood in the 18th minute, Taylor Twellman made mention of how slow the team was playing. In a do-or-die match, that is incredibly concerning to hear and ultimately falls on the coach.

Ultimately, the tournament fully revealed the club’s shortcomings. From the disappointing performance of high priced Designated Players to lackluster coaching, the club —from top to bottom — has its work cutout for them in the coming months.