Atlanta United dropped a frustrating 1-0 result away to Charlotte FC on Sunday afternoon to fall to 3-2-1 on the young MLS season. Despite the sour result, the Five Stripes still sit fourth in the Eastern conference standings without really fielding anywhere close to a full-strength lineup. Here are a few thoughts on a poor loss away from home.
Same As It Ever Was
If you’ve followed this team at all over the past six seasons, you know the drill. As Josef Martinez goes, so goes Atlanta United. The undeniable trend has always been that when the Venezuelan talisman is out of the lineup, the Five Stripes struggle to produce in front of goal. While Gonzalo Pineda’s side did muster a respectable 1.34 xG on 16 shot attempts according to Opta — bettering Charlotte’s total of 0.90 — there was only really one clean look on goal. Dom Dwyer’s tight-angle chance in the first half after being played in by Thiago Almada was the highest xG totaled chance according to the metric and the resulting shot ended up out of play for an opponent’s throw-in. Thus sums up the day for Atlanta’s attack. The sad truth is that even two full years after his knee injury, the club haven’t found a way to deal with Josef’s absence whether he’s fit or not. With him being out for around 6-8 weeks, it’s not looking great for the team’s attacking prowess in the interim.
The Big Question
After the onslaught of injury news came this week there was one prevailing question circulating around the community: Is it time to panic?
While the logical and boring answer is that it’s a long season and plenty of time to figure things out, the honest truth is, yes it’s probably okay to panic a bit. Without a focal point this team looks rather aimless in attack. Simply relying on Thiago Almada and Marcelino Moreno to isolate and dribble past multiple defenders to create every chance isn’t going to be a consistent recipe for success. Until the likes of Luiz Araujo and Josef Martinez return it’s going to be a struggle to find some dynamism in the final third. This isn’t pessimism or doom and gloom. It’s just the truth at this point.
Time Remains Undefeated
I suppose we have to talk about the giant elephant in the room. Brad Guzan is becoming a liability. While he deserves respect and admiration for all he’s done for the club in the past, it’s becoming apparent that a backup plan is going to be needed at some juncture. American soccer’s residential goalkeeping aficionado Bill Reno releases a weekly MLS goalkeepers ranking and Atlanta ranked near the bottom of the league in his most recent release.
MLS Goalkeeper Power Rankings - Week 5 pic.twitter.com/QqvJvSCSxX— Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer) March 29, 2022
The olimpico goal was extremely hard to watch on replay as it seemed like Guzan had a clear view of the set piece for the duration and only had one body in front of him having minimal interference at best. To allow that to go in is a bit inexcusable and just another piece of evidence that the former USMNT netminder’s skills are diminishing.
It may not be this season, but the club must contemplate what a future with someone else in goal looks like and have a plan ready.