Last week was one to forget as an Atlanta United fan: a really nervy win against Chicago Fire, then elimination from the US Open Cup at the hands of Memphis 901 and finally a disappointing 3-1 loss to Nashville SC on the road.
But now isn’t the time to forget. Now is the time to relive the pain all over again so that I can complain about it and draw little arrows and circles on pictures to show you exactly why things went so poorly. Then you get to complain in the comments about my artistic abilities, my tactical analysis, the game itself, or how your Thursday is going by too slowly. Seriously, let it all out. I’m listening… er… reading.
Sound good? Cool. Let’s get down to business.
Great Chance - Atlanta United 51’
One of Atlanta United’s best attacking plays in the game starts - as many of their attacks have this season - from the back. Juanjo Purata faces pressure from Fafa Picault and finds a large gap between Hany Mukhtar and Anibal Godoy to find Thiago Almada (blue arrow).
Meanwhile, Andrew Gutman and Brooks Lennon (not pictured) are beginning to move up their respective flanks to provide width to the attack.
Almada receives with his back to Dax McCarty who’s about to put him under intense pressure (red arrow). Almada knows this is coming, though and quickly plays the ball over to Matheus Rossetto who isn’t under as much pressure and is running into space where he’ll have a larger area to contemplate his next pass (purple circle).
Contemplation time is over as Alex Muyl is closing in fast. Fortunately, Rossetto just passes forward to a wide-open Luiz Araujo (blue arrow), progressing the play and catching Nashville on a promising counterattack.
Once again, you have Lennon (circled in purple) and Gutman providing width (yellow arrow).
Now Atlanta’s cooking. They have numbers forward, Machop Chol is making a run in between the center backs and Caleb Wiley is providing a lethal option out wide. Araujo sees this developing an plays a good through ball for Wiley (blue arrow).
ATLANTA UNITED IS IN THE BOX. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
For real though, a lot of good stuff happens here. First of all, Machop Chol is getting into some very good space inside the box (yellow arrow). Jack Maher is right behind him, but wouldn’t be in a position to stop ‘Chop from getting a shot off without conceding a penalty. The only one who could do that is Walker Zimmerman (circled in red) who is hyper-focused on blocking a potential cross from Wiley and hasn’t seen Chol.
Wiley knows that a cross would be cut out all too easily, so he instead backheels the ball over to Gutman (blue arrow) who has tons of space and several options.
Chol (circled in yellow) is in a perfect spot to receive the ball at the heart of the box and get a relatively easy tap-in. If that isn’t good enough, Araujo is also running into space inside the box (purple arrow), and he would have a fantastic opportunity for a shot.
But Gutman just decides to go for it himself (solid blue arrow). He didn’t exactly have an angle for a clean shot, as he had three opposing bodies plus ‘Chop’s 6’2 frame blocking the shot. By the way, Chol really shouldn’t be in that position (circled in yellow). Where is he going to get the ball? Is he hoping for a big rebound off of Joe Willis? He is totally unreachable in this spot, so he would have been better off just holding off Maher and staying put where he was earlier near the center of the box (yellow arrow) or back at the far post to give Gutman a clear passing option (dotted blue arrow).
The other really lethal option that’s a goal 99 times out of a hundred is playing the ball to Araujo (dotted yellow arrow) who is running into a spot from which the net is wide open (purple arrow). Literally, nothing the keeper or Maher can do about it if Araujo gets the ball and first-times a low-driven shot into the bottom corner.
Oh, what could’ve been...
Instead, the ball bounces off of Willis and Chol tries to get to it for a quick shot, but is ruled offside.
- The Machop Chol at striker experiment may not have had resounding success, but there’s some promising stuff right there. While he did get a few things wrong, I think Chol showed the ability to get into dangerous areas inside the box and really use his strength and size to good effect. What I saw from him playing the position in this game impressed me more than pretty much anything Miguel Berry has done so far. While he isn’t an ideal striker, he does seem to be one of the better options available at the moment if Giakoumakis is going to be out for a while longer.
- Be more aware of options inside the box. That shot from Gutman was not the right decision. He needs to be more aware that there is an incoming runner that can get a much easier shot if he just plays the right pass. Sure, this is soccer and all of these difficult calculations need to happen in a matter of seconds, but if he just picks up his head as the ball is being played toward him, I bet he sees the chance and plays it.
Nashville Goal - Teal Bunbury 50’
Probably one of the more concerning things about this goal is that the play starts from a throw-in just a few yards away from Nashville’s end line. Here, Nashville’s player delivered a long throw down the touchline to try and get past the mass of Atlanta attackers in the vicinity (blue arrow).
Good news: Santiago Sosa wins the aerial duel. Bad news: he heads the ball right into the path of Alex Muyl (red arrow) who is now getting ready to run into loads of open space (massive purple circle).
Muyl charges into the open space (blue arrow) and Atlanta’s players need to get back quickly (red arrows). Also, notice how waaaaay out of position Miles Robinson is here (purple circle). He’s all the way over at the touchline. Atlanta United’s best defender is not part of the equation anymore, making this a massive opportunity for Nashville.
What could be more dangerous than Nashville countering with Atlanta’s best defender away from his post? How about 2022 MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar (circled in purple) getting the ball in space behind the defense? Muyl sees the opportunity to set up a great chance, so he plays a ball over the top to the German attacker (blue arrow).
Now, Mukhtar has advanced quite a bit. He’s on the edge of the box and is about to work himself into a shooting position (blue arrow). Because Atlanta’s entire squad was caught on the counter, the only players present to defend are Juanjo Purata - trying to close down Mukhtar (leftmost red arrow) - and Gutman - who’s currently positioned to deal with a potential cross into the box (rightmost red arrow).
However, a cross isn’t the only threat. Teal Bunbury is making a deep run into the space inside the box behind Gutman (yellow arrow).
Notice that Caleb Wiley is occupied dealing with Shaq Moore (circled in purple), so he can’t come over to help cover Bunbury.
Mukhtar has cut in and is getting ready to take a shot. Now, given the position that Mukhtar is in, Gutman should have the instinct to realize that he won’t be going for a cross, so there’s no point in covering that channel. Instead, he should be more aware of the incoming danger of Bunbury who is now in a pretty good spot to fight for a shot rebound (yellow arrow).
Mukhtar takes his shot…
… which is saved by Diop, but he spills the ball into the center of the box…
… and Bunbury finishes easily to double Nashville’s lead.
- Too much disorganization. Something that really baffled me about this play was Robinson’s positioning during this play. It’s an opposing throw-in from the other end of the field. There is no need for a Robinson, a center back, to be so far up for this. That’s just begging to be beaten on the counter. If Atlanta’s game plan was to press high, leaving Muyl all alone with tons of space ahead in midfield is not a great way to do that. I’ve said it before if you’re going to press, it has to be organized. This wasn’t and Nashville profited from a very well-done counterattack.
- Track the runners… please. Teal Bunbury had all the time in the world to get into a prime scoring position and no one tracked him down. He just walked into the box and got to the rebound. You can’t make it this easy for opposing forwards to get into wide-open scoring positions. For me, it’s Gutman that needs to be aware of Bunbury’s run and get closer to him. If he does that, maybe he doesn’t get to that rebound as easily.
Nashville Goal - Jacob Shaffelburg 90+1’
Once again, the play starts from the other end of the field. Atlanta United loses possession and Nashville clears it forward (blue arrow).
I would also like to point out that playing striker is
Miguel Berry Machop Chol Juanjo Purata (circled in purple). Man… what a wild game. Certainly one of the Atlanta United games of all time.
Hey, remember that ball that got cleared by Nashville’s defense earlier? Well, guess who picked it up? That’s right, none other than Hany freakin’ Mukhtar (blue arrow). So now Atlanta United finds itself on the counter again with only Robinson, Sosa and Luis Abram in a position to deal with the danger. It’s a three-on-three, but the attackers have the distinct advantage that all three of Atlanta’s players here are pretty darn slow.
Anyways, Jacob Shaffelburg makes a run (yellow arrow) in front of Robinson (red arrow) to try and get into the space beyond Sosa so that Mukhtar can play him in behind.
Ultimately, the 23-year-old who just came off the bench is able to beat Robinson who has played the whole game. Shaffelburg runs into the space (yellow arrow) and Mukhtar plays a really good through ball for him (blue arrow). Now, Abram knows which side he needs to commit to, so he angles his run toward the center a bit more (red arrow).
Ok, the only person that could possibly stop Shaffelburg from having a 1v1 with Diop is Abram. He’s the guy that is closest to being in front of Shaffelburg. Abram needs to do something - ANYTHING - to stop Shaffelburg from getting through on goal. He could slide tackle and kick the ball away or even bring down Shaffelburg with a foul (which would probably result in a red card for DOGSO but at least you don’t concede).
But Abram doesn’t do anything. Shaffelburg just runs away with the ball and gets his 1v1 with Diop...
... which he wins to seal Nashville’s victory with a 3-1 score.
- Now we know why Luis Abram hasn’t broken into the starting XI. When Carlos Bocanegra touted Abram as this “cerebral defender” whose characteristics make him a player similar to former captain Michael Parkhurst, I expected a capable defender who would come in and immediately slot in as an ideal center back partner for Miles Robinson. But what I’ve seen from Abram thus far is a player lacking pace and defensive acumen. Hopefully, we’ll see that “cerebral defender” part of him develop sooner rather than later because so far he’s looked like the third of Atlanta’s four non-goalkeeper signings that is struggling this season.
- This is the fourth consecutive match in which Atlanta United have conceded after the 90th minute. In the previous three matches, they conceded from a winning position. This time, they did it from a losing position. It’s a serious problem that this team is just unable to hold their nerve at the end of games. It could be several factors causing this: a lack of on-field leadership, failure to make necessary adjustments during matches, the players’ mental states during the late parts of the game, or something else. Either way, the team needs to figure out how to snap this streak because it’s costing them dearly so far and could get worse with stronger opponents like New England and LAFC around the corner.