Reminiscent of past (bad) Atlanta United in many ways
Atlanta United’s 3-1 loss to Nashville SC at GEODIS Park Saturday felt familiar:
Playing without a striker, the team came under pressure in the early moments of the game, survived those moments (maybe the one unexpected twist), but later conceded before halftime off a set piece, then again 10 minutes after the restart, held a vast majority of the possession and yet only created less than a handful of interesting opportunities on goal. In the end, the team scored off a penalty, but created only 0.6 xG from open play outside of that moment. In the end, outside of a 10-minute stretch at the end of the match in which there was small hope of a draw, Atlanta never felt like they were within arms reach of a result, and the better team got the deserved rewards from the game.
Depth: there is none
We all got excited early this season at the way the team was playing and entertaining us. Maybe (hopefully) we’ll get to that place again later this season, perhaps after the team makes moves in the summer window to bolster areas of weakness and the team regains it’s health and vigor. But right now, Atlanta United looks a bit downtrodden. Key players have missed games with various injuries and even those in the lineup are probably dealing with fitness issues themselves. And the shame is that this team cannot afford this type of malady. When Atlanta United has all of its best players fit and ready, I really believe this team has the potential to beat any league foe. But if any of these pieces are missing or hampered with a physical problem, the reserves who are thrust into action are not performing well enough to allow the team to maintain an identity, let alone get results. The past few weeks when Thiago Almada and/or Giogios Giakoumakis (or even Franco Ibarra) have missed time, it simply doesn’t look like the same team that we saw the first month of the season.
One of Gonzalo Pineda’s primary objectives in the coming weeks has to be to figure out a way to get his wingers involved in a threatening way. And that’s not to say Pineda is solely at fault for the lack of dynamism he’s seeing from that position in recent games, but it’s clearly become an issue that has steadily progressed over the past month. Luiz Araujo, in particular, is offering very very little. Pineda actually removed him after an hour in this one, where he amassed three shots from outside the box, zero successful ground duels outside of being fouled three times, and two shot assists worth a whopping .05 xA. There’s some legitimately good stuff there too, like 8/9 long passes, and his four ball recoveries from the wing position show he is not not trying. But the team needs more from a Designated Player in this attacking position. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like opposing teams are struggling to contain him, and that’s a problem.
Follow the leader if you can find him
Who is the vocal team leader here? We all know how important players like Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz were to past versions of this team. They were older, experienced players who had a firm grasp of what the manager wanted to do and gave the team a semblance of balance — both tactical and emotional — on the pitch. This team simply doesn’t have that kind of player without Ozzie Alonso. Andrew Gutman and Brooks Lennon may be identified as a couple of those kinds of players, but they’re both still in their mid 20s, and both are fullbacks, where it’s harder to really use any street smarts to help offer that balance to the team. It’s not about yelling in itself and being a rah-rah motivator. It’s about having that sense of a coach on the field, and being able to dictate certain things to teammates at certain times to give them what the team needs.