Defending the Lead
After weathering a first half storm, Atlanta United appeared poised to take all three points in the second half of last Sunday’s match against Philadelphia Union at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The hosts took a 1-0 lead after an own goal from Kacper Przybylko. Manager Gabriel Heinze responded soon after by going to a more comfortable and experienced defensive setup, subbing in center back Alan Franco for center midfielder Franco Ibarra, and moving Santiago Sosa into Ibarra’s spot to play higher up the pitch to break up and start attacks.
Atlanta took a 2-0 lead from an Anton Walkes header in the 83rd minute. Interestingly, the manager had only just then gone into an even more defensive setup before the goal, as Jake Mulraney checked in for Erik Lopez, playing much deeper down the right side than the Paraguayan, who essentially was employed as a forward. It would be an error from Mulraney, and more critically goalkeeper Brad Guzan, that allowed the allowed the visitors right back into the match.
And while individual mistakes lead to the first goal, a review of the second goal shows it’s hard to place blame on on anything other than an incredible strike from Jakob Glesnes.
Tale of the Tape
Let’s take look at the first goal for the Union.
Needless to say, conceding just after taking a seemingly insurmountable lead turned the match on its head. But how was Philadelphia able to travel so far, so quickly, towards the Atlanta goal in the first place? How was a simple ball wide to left back Kai Wagner able to slice open an Atlanta side that was already playing with a defensive posture?
For reference, let’s see who Heinze wanted to mark Wagner (or any wide attacker in that space) for the Union. Below, we see it was substitute Mulraney’s (seen at the top of the screen) assignment in tracking back into that space to mark Wagner. Meantime, Brooks Lennon is able to move more centrally to help out to the right of Sosa, with Moreno performing a similar role in the left half.
Now, watch the first part of the Union goal again, Mulraney gets caught in no-mans land, Lennon desperately points for him to get back from his central position, but by the time he recovers Wagner is already in space to receive the pass.
Wagner proceeds to shake off the recovering Mulraney and pushes into into a dangerous area, drawing the attention of the Atlanta defense, and allowing Jamiro Monteiro a small bit of space to shoot from centrally. Still, Santiago Sosa and Walkes step to the shot, and even get a slight touch to the ball.
Regardless of the Mulraney error, this this is a huge mistake from Guzan in goal. The Mulraney error is frustrating, especially considering he had just entered the match under directions to sit deeper, but Atlanta’s goalkeeper should be saving this shot comfortably.
A couple of individual mistakes cost Atlanta on the first goal. But it was a bit of individual brilliance courtesy of the visitors that equalized.
Jakob Glesnes tees up a shot from distance for one of the goals of the season. And with a closer look we see that he is afforded space due to no real fault of the hosts, who had to prioritize more dangerous areas defensively. Watch below as Mulraney is forced to retreat with his marker towards the goal to help his defense to maintain a numerical advantage in front of Guzan’s net.
Glesnes attacks the space left by Mulraney. But even so, Mulraney is able to step to Glesnes and at least somewhat close down the strike, while more importantly the defense stays matched up man-for-man behind him.
With Atlanta seemingly recovered defensively, Glesnes opts for a shot from a great distance (xG tells us this shot goes in less than 3% of the time). And it wasn’t as if Atlanta’s defense just watched on as the Norwegian shot the ball either. Just watch the angle below to see what a tight window (between the stepping Mulraney and Atlanta’s center backs) Glesnes had to find in order to beat Guzan.
What. A. Goal. Sometimes, as they say, you just have to tip your cap, and give credit where it’s due. And if a result comes down to an opponent’s shot from this distance, the Five Stripes will certainly take those odds.
Atlanta United have now blown 2-0 leads in their past two matches. In both cases, the lost leads boiled down to a mix of individual miscues and bad fortune. They’ll need to have less of both if they want to get back to winning ways.
Whether Atlanta can correct their late game struggles remains to be seen. But for now, the problem does at least appear fixable.