Atlanta United’s four-match winning streak was rudely interrupted by fellow southerners Nashville SC on Saturday evening. The Five Stripes were severely frustrated by their regional foes and dealt a momentum halting 2-0 loss at home in Gonzalo Pineda’s first match as manager. On a day where seemingly nothing would fall in Atlanta’s favor, Nashville took their chances and left the home side wondering how it all went wrong. Here are a few thoughts on a sobering afternoon at the Benz.
- The build-up to this match felt different. After four straight wins and knowing a brand new manager was coming in, it almost felt like the good ole days through out the week. Add in the fact that the team had a full week of rest (save for Miles and George), expectations were as probably as high as they’ve been in two years. Unfortunately the performance just fell absolutely flat from the get-go. As soon as Atlanta’s early shout for a penalty was overturned and converted to a free kick it seemed like the air was let out of the Benz and no one in red and black could recover. What makes it hard to digest is how Gonzalo Pineda spent all weak preaching about how he wanted his team to play with passion and energy. Sure, there was passion when things went bad. The players clearly cared and showed it with their anger over how they couldn’t convert the few chances that were created. However, the energy part of the equation, especially in the first half, left a lot to be desired. Maybe it was the roof being open on a hot day or something else, but it just never felt like the team had much of a desire to press the issue until it got really late in the match.
- It’s way too early to judge Pineda’s impact on the tactics or performances. It must be noted that Nashville is a really, really good team. Yes that may be shocking if you don’t pay attention to MLS religiously. However, there’s a good reason they only have two losses all season. This match was always going to be a difficult task and Nashville executed their safe and calculated gameplan to perfection while Atlanta struggled to look cohesive all day. The chances that the attack did muster came from individual moments like Luiz Araujo cranking a curling effort from 30 yards. The attractive build-up play in the attack was basically non-existent until Pineda shifted into the 4-3-3 late in the match.
- Santiago Sosa’s absence was felt greatly in this match and the glaring hole at defensive midfielder is obvious for the whole league to see. Amar Sejdic and Matheus Rossetto are two quality players on the ball but both lack the natural defensive instincts to make an impact as the team’s No. 6. Until the likes of Franco Ibarra or Mo Adams returns it’s going to be a tricky situation in the middle of the park for the Five Stripes and Gonzalo Pineda. There was simply way too much space for the opposing team’s creative players to operate in front of goal and the lack of a true defensive midfielder is a huge reason. That could also be attributed to the 3-4-2-1 shape that Pineda used as well as it offers very little support for whoever is the most defensive midfielder, especially when Marcelino Moreno is deployed as their partner. Against good teams there will need to be sacrifices made to ensure that there’s more stability in the midfield or it’s going to be quite ugly like it was in this match.
- The squad (aside from the four on international duty) now have around 12 days to rest and recover ahead of a huge match against Orlando City on Sept. 10. We can only hope that Pineda can get everyone on the same page during that timeframe and can integrate some of his ideas into the fold. It’s completely understandable to not want to mess with a good thing when on a four-match win streak. Now that’s it’s over Pineda really needs to put his stamp on the team and tactical ideas for the final stretch of the season.