An Atlanta professional sports team is having a disappointing run. The coach is making questionable decisions, the front office has missed on some recent player transactions, and the players look like they lack direction and motivation. The social media conversation around the team is overrun with snarky tweet after snarky tweet from people with dumb social media handle names likes Paysoninho.
This all feels so dang familiar. As a native ATLien and longtime believer in The Atlanta Curse, I’ve seen it all, though I let myself think for a time that Atlanta United might be immune to a midseason malaise.
We’ve been at or near the top of the MLS world since the first match at Bobby Dodd, and to fall so low in 2020 has thrown the 17’s into a negative feedback loop of self-loathing and pessimism.
This past weekend’s 4-2 drubbing by expansion side Nashville was the new rock bottom for Atlanta United. The team made plenty of mistakes, looked bereft of ideas in the attack, and once again seemed to be missing a midfield. The poor performance meant compliments weren’t exactly flowing from the Five Stripes faithful.
At least we can count on the team’s manager Stephen Glass to keep things posit—
“Probably one of the worst performances the club has seen.”
Oh, ok. That was honest. Well maybe we can find the silver lining if we dig deep—
“I think the players know the standards required and they know there is no excuse for the performance level tonight. We win and lose as a group obviously. I think there’s a lot of people that know they didn’t come up to the required standard to play for the club tonight.”
Wow, tough stuff. Always good to follow up by taking some of the responsibility to take some pressure off the play—
“I don’t think any manager in the country can legislate for the sort of mistakes we made tonight.”
Well, at least George Bello looked pretty good. Right? You could definitely take a moment to compliment the things he—
“Again, I’m wary of saying anything positive about the game tonight because it gets dressed up that I’m looking at positives out of probably one of the worst performances the club has seen. So, in terms of moving forward when we were attacking them at times later in the second half – and midway through the second half – there were positives aspects towards that, but I don’t pull any positives from the performance tonight.”
Stephen Glass was having none of it after the embarrassing loss. I don’t blame him. I respect his honesty, though it’s unclear if he’s capable of improving the team’s poor run of form.
The one glimmer of hope actually came from grizzled veteran Jeff Larentowicz.
“Of course, there is hope,” he said after the match. “There are 12 games left. We just did three day-trips in a week against difficult opponents so of course there is hope. There are 12 games. We have a week to prepare for our next game against a team that we need to beat. There is absolutely hope and we need to work our way out of it. It begins with working as a group and preparing to step on the field with full concentration the next time we play.”
Time to start taking those baby steps.
Speaking of babies, Tyler Wolff got his first-ever MLS start. He didn’t necessarily impress with his play off the field, but at least we’ve come up with a good nickname for him.
I often find myself forgetting how young George Bello is. At only 18, he’s two years younger than Andrew Carelton. Then again, he’s only a year behind Alphonso Davis, but like Davies, Bello shows consistent flashes of brilliance down the left side.
He played from touchline to touchline against Nashville, scoring a beautiful goal off an Adam Jahn assist in the first half and doing the dirty defensive work like clearing the ball off the goal line in the 77th minute.
Asked if would prefer to play in a more attacking role, he said, “Not really. I’m a left-back. I can attack, I can defend.” Here is a visual representation of Bello doing both effectively for 90 minutes:
Great Defense Wins Championships, Bad Defense Might Get You an MLS Playoff Spot
“A team can’t be on the front foot if you can’t pass out of your own half.” Some wise words from Glass about how his team had too many turnovers resulting in goals for Nashville.
The problems in the back had Jeff talking like Ernest Hemingway: “Gave away the ball. Gave away goals. Did nothing to help Brad. Turnovers, inconsistency on the ball. It was all there.”
The most egregious example came when Nashville won the ball off a Franco Escobar throw and waltzed through the backline to score their second:
Another bad turnover from Brooks Lennon allowed Daniel Lovitz to take the ball and cross it to an unmarked Dax McCarty for their third:
Atlanta also gave up another goal from a corner kick, something which should be rare but has become all too common.
The Five Stripes connected on only 1 of 14 crosses, compared to Nashville’s 4 of 10.
When your cross chart looks like it traveled here in a phone booth time machine from 1970’s England, you know the attack isn’t dangerous enough to put the defense on its heels:
Jeff had a word of warning to his teammates: don’t let the bad results build on themselves.
“I’ve been on bad teams for sure,” he said. “You have to play your way out of it. If you don’t, it gets worse. It compounds. Each game gets worse. You don’t want to come into training. It’s also something that this club has never done and I don’t see us doing it this year. We have to work our way out of it. We have plenty of talent, plenty of ability on the field but we can’t allow ourselves to get to that place.”
We’ll have to see if they pull themselves out of the tailspin. Without a new manager and new personnel, however, we’ll have to just cross our fingers and hope they can start to look a bit more organized from back to front.