Atlanta United just couldn’t pull it off Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Union on a night when they initially had everything leaning their way.
Saving the monthly chat about how PRO is blatantly missing calls for later, the Five Stripes looked decent for most of the match. But for 8 minutes at the end of the first half, they completely fell apart and allowed Philly to net three goals.
The film review will likely pick out a handful of glaring mistakes that need to be fixed before the quick turnaround against Columbus Crew on Saturday, but no team can expect to lose focus in a match like that and then turn around and pull a result.
To be fair, though, one thing this Atlanta team has had all year is fight. The guys came out in the second half knocking on the door, and were ultimately able to bag two goals before the end of the match. One came from another obvious handball that took way to long to review before it was rightfully given, and the second from a cluster of players in the box where Edwin Mosquera was able to deliver an outside-foot shot through traffic to give the team some hope.
The team just didn't play up to their standards, though. To oversimplify things: it wasn’t the worst, but we know it can be much better. The wings, the midfield, the DP’s, and the defense all can be much better than they showed against Philly. And they’ll have to be if they want any chance of making a run in the playoffs.
And here’s the part where I go in on the atrocious refereeing - keeping in mind I wrote this part before I watched Pineda’s press conference. The first handball was never looked at by the ref. Why, in the year 2023 A.D., are head refs not being forced to check the monitor if the VAR deems it enough to stop the restart of the match?
Miss me with the “it looks like it came off the thigh first.”
Alex Chilowicz tells me about the non-call of the Nathan Harriel handball:— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) October 5, 2023
“In the opinion of the referee, the arm was down and in a natural position when the ball struck it.”
That’s a surprise - no deflection off Harriel’s leg. #doop #WeAreTheA
It’s a missed call, plain and simple. The arm was in an unnatural position - he looks like he’s getting arm-barred by Nate Diaz’s ghost - and yet the ref couldn’t be bothered to simply go take a look.
Fast-forward to Philly’s goal on the quick restart. The ref is having a conversation with Brooks Lennon and reaching for his spray to lay down the line when Philly takes the kick and scores, and the ref couldn’t be bothered to call the ball as rightfully dead.
Just got a replay of the first PHI goal. Sure looked like the referee was still talking to Lennon and Almada when the free kick was taken.— Mike Conti (@MikeConti929) October 5, 2023
Atlanta United responded very poorly since, but still...
There was also a second potential no-call on a handball between the first blatant miss and third correct one, but it’s the only one that’s debatable.
Anyway, refs are clearly having a banner week across the world - just ask Liverpool - and there are no excuses for falling apart like Atlanta did. But the larger conversation here is that PRO needs accountability and to simply use the available processes to get the call right. For that, there are also no excuses.
Take a look below at what Gonzalo Pineda and Edwin Mosquera had to say after the match.
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On what happened during the stretch in the first half when the team conceded three goals:
“I want to talk to the PRO Referees here and ask them how we have to earn the respect from them to get the calls. Today, there should have been three PKs, only one was called. Against us against Miami, a handball for (Luis) Abram that hits the left hand here in the chest and after that the rebound comes to the arm, it’s called a penalty kick. Today, in the first half, before they scored the three goals, it should have been called a penalty kick. So, if Jim Curtin talked before the game about handballs and he talked about no one knows what handball is anymore, and then they get the calls, they get the advantage because of that. In the game against New England this year, Bruce Arena talks the game before our game in their house, they talk about handball that wasn’t called. Then in the first half, Brooks Lennon crosses from the prime assist zone and it’s not called a penalty. Do I need to talk before every game about the referees not giving us calls? What else do we need to do? Rather than playing good football, dominating the game, creating a lot of chances. What else do we need to do to earn the respect? Because to me it feels that tonight we were punished. The score normally should have been 4-3 because three penalties should have been called. Based on the standard of the league and how they have been calling handballs, there should have been three penalties tonight and we should have won 4-3. But, if I need to talk to the referees about that, then I need to do it. Because the channels they have put for us doesn’t work anymore. I’m going to talk publicly about that now. If I need to say this every week before our games, I’m going to do it. We have to earn the respect. Today, Alex Chilowicz, I have a bad memory so I don’t have the right stats in front of me, but it feels like most of the times we get controversial calls from him go against us. It might be coincidence, but my recollection is that we lose more often with him than not. Last game I recall that he refereed us was against Red Bulls at home and there was a horrible tackle against Brad Guzan that should have been a straight red card and he didn’t do it. It was a horrible tackle into the knee of the goalkeeper and no red card was given. It feels like it is controversial, and normally the calls from Alex go against us. What else we need to do to earn the respect? That’s my response to your question.”
On what the third penalty situation was in his opinion:
“Right before the penalty that they called, it was another handball. Probably was the least obvious of the three, but it was another handball. Another cutback from the prime assist zone and it was probably here (points to his stretched out arm). I haven’t seen the high definition TV feed yet, but from the wide angle it looks like a handball. The penalty that they called against Abram was the first contact is with the hand in here (points to hand tucked into chest). What is the difference with this (points to arm stretched behind back)? Why do we get those called against us from VAR and they don’t? I don’t know the answer to that.”
On going back to the three goals conceded and if teams composure was affected by the lack of handball call:
“I addressed that already with my players. That’s on us. I already addressed that with them. But today, three penalties should have been called and only one was called. Today that made the difference. The first one is right before their goals and we were dominating the game until that point. We were on top of them. Today, that was the most important part. The other ones I’ve already taken care of with my players.”
On how the team can bounce back and get six points from remaining two games:
“I challenged my players at halftime to see some reaction. We know that we lost control of the game in the last six minutes of the first half. But tonight, three penalties should have been called and only one was called. So, I will say that I need that kind of response and performance we had for the other 89 minutes of the game and that type of performance will give us advantage in the final two matches. That’s how we want and should play. But today, three penalties should have been called and only one was called.”
On some of the players touches being off and if that’s a reflection of having time off:
“A couple times I talk about the type of field conditions we face. We know at times it’s not as even as others. Of course we have to reflect on what we can do better on the ball. I felt that we were trying to play, to build all the time and be in control. We had control for multiple moments of the game. It’s way easier to play long balls and look for second balls, bounces or fouls here and there. That’s not our style. Our style is trying to play football, and yes a couple of times we lost the ball. But the reactions were good. But again, three penalties should have been called tonight, and only one was called.”
On suggestions to improve the quality of officiating in league:
“I’m out of suggestions because I have been saying this multiple times to the fourth official in person and I don’t get the right response. Many times the fourth official agrees with me and they know that this call should have been for us, this call should have been for the other team. So, yeah sometimes it happens. They know, it’s very obvious. Especially the first one tonight, it’s very obvious what type of penalty it was. Again, probably the solution I see is that if other coaches talk about handballs before the game, I’m going to do it before every game and maybe I start getting the calls and the opponent doesn’t.”
Atlanta United forward Edwin Mosquera
On Gonzalo Pineda’s comments about the referee and how calls that go against the team affect them
“I think in soccer we’re human beings, including the referees. We have to do our job and leave the officiating aside.”
On scoring three goals in his last six matches and what’s causing his goal-scoring form
“I think how I’ve been training and how the group is treating me and that’s why it’s happening.”
On what kind of things are helping
“We’re always happy and laughing and that transmits. We’re united on and off the field and that transmits on the field.”
On if he’s the type of player that just needed to see one goal to gain more confidence
“Yes, I’m the type of player who feels that and I think at the end of the year I’m going to finish with more goals than I have now.”