Atlanta United’s defense was all over the place (in a bad way) in the team’s chaotic 3-3 draw against Chattanooga FC at Finley Stadium Saturday — all six of the goals happening in the game’s first half when “starters” were on the field.
Let’s dive into what we saw and what we can take away:
- It should be stated from the top that the first preseason game never looks like the team that eventually takes the field for the first match of the league season for numerous reasons. In this case, the team was playing with Jackson Conway at striker and Machop Chol on the left wing. Players like Thiago Almada and Derrick Etienne Jr. were not involved for fitness/precautionary reasons. Obviously the team’s expected starting striker Giorgios Giakoumakis wasn’t involved as the transfer is not yet completed. And Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan were playing their first semi-competitive minutes in nearly a year after debilitating Achilles tendon ruptures.
- And, maybe predictably, it was a subpar day. Before we go individually, let’s characterize the whole of the performance as: sloppy, chaotic, disorganized — all with those pesky individual errors mixed in. If much of the preseason training so far has been marked with a renewed optimism after a disappointing 2022, this scrimmage sure is a snap back to reality for what is now an incomplete roster with several big question marks.
- Each team scored three goals in the first half. Atlanta scored theirs on: a penalty, Luiz Araujo nipping at the heels of a CB taking a pass from a goalkeeper and poking home, and Machop Chol tapping in a ball that bounced away from the goalkeeper after Luiz Araujo got clattered after a dribble. Chattanooga scored twice on crossfield switches of play that created 1v1 matchups, drove at defenders and got dangerous crosses into the box... my point is that Chattanooga created the more dangerous chances with team play. Goalkeeping errors for both sides allowed more goals in this game than there should have been, but I think you’d rather be Chattanooga in this scenario.
- Let’s talk about some of the players, starting with Brad Guzan. He has not played for the better part of a year, and frankly it showed. He was jumpy — overeager to react to balls in and around the goal. He will not be a goalkeeper who can be relied on for making incredible sprawling saves at this point, so the least he can bring is an experienced head between the sticks that can help organize his defense and try to keep mistakes to a minimum. He didn’t do that today, but it’s worth giving him a pass on this one. That said, obviously performances must improve or there are going to be serious questions about Atlanta’s starting goalkeeping position sooner rather than later.
- Both fullbacks Andrew Gutman and Brooks Lennon moved well as they typically do, but both were beaten at times defensively to allow crosses to come in or runners to sneak behind.
- The center backs Juanjo Purata and Miles Robinson didn’t contribute much to the game. They passed back and forth, but weren’t instrumental in the possession play, nor did either make any notable defensive plays in a game where the team allowed 3 goals in 45 minutes.
- Let’s discuss Robinson a bit more since he’s under the microscope also coming off an Achilles. I personally didn’t think he moved around the same way we are used to. Of course, this is perfectly understandable and (in my case) expected. He’s less than 9 months from having suffered a brutal injury. But it’s a reminder that he should NOT be expected to be the team’s starter by the season opener. Could he be? Yes. But that should not be the expectation, and if Atlanta tries to lean on him too hard too early, it could spell bad things.
- Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra were mediocre. Sosa did his normal thing, spraying passes around to the flanks, which is nice. But none of these passes did much in the way of unbalancing Chattanooga’s defensive block. Ibarra was hardly noticeable playing as a two-way midfielder. I have it on good authority that Matheus Rossetto also played in this game, but sources are trying to confirm.
- Machop Chol may have been the brightest spot amongst the players in the first half. He had some nice moments running at Chattanooga defenders on the ball. Nice. In no way should this be construed as a performance that could vault him into meaningful minutes — he simply used his abilities against inferior opponents to impact the game in a positive way, and that’s a good thing.
- Luiz Araujo was the most dangerous player on the field as one would expect. He played in his normal right wing position cutting inside on his left foot. But he was only able tobreak down CFC on the dribble. Overall, Atlanta didn’t have many memorable passing combinations that unlocked things. It’s somewhat understandable when you don’t have your most creative player in Thiago Almada on the field.
- The lack of passing cohesion left Jackson Conway on an island where he was unable to spark anything.
Again, never overreact to any preseason game, and especially the first one. But at the same time, we can’t pretend like we saw something today that we can put in our pockets and carry with us going forward. Maybe the fact that it was so sloppy will be a wake-up call that the group needs before they head to Mexico for the dog days of training camp. Hopefully they look better on the other side of it.