The slide continues
In the waning moments of Saturday’s capitulation in Ft. Lauderdale where Atlanta United was desperately trying to earn a draw against 10-man Inter Miami, I wondered: When is the last time this team actually played a good game?
As it turns out, it was the road draw against NYCFC, which we all praised at the time and thought was a sign of better things to come for Gonzalo Pineda and the team. But as it turned out, that game — played one month ago from this writing — was the last time Atlanta United had more xG than it’s opponent. That’s a stretch of games that includes two home matches against the Chicago Fire (who sit second to last in the Eastern Conference) and Memphis 901 FC, a USL team that fielded three former Atlanta United 2 players that had since been released. In fact, Memphis dominated Atlanta, racking up 30 shots (in 120 minutes).
Two matches later bring us to this past Saturday night. Josef Martinez has not scored this season in MLS, forcing his benching. Two major injuries to its starting central midfielders forces two teenagers with three MLS starts between them into Phil Neville’s central midfield pairing. Miami is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and floundering.
And it’s not just that Atlanta United lost. It’s that they deservedly lost. If it weren’t for the final 15 minutes (including the 10 minutes of stoppage time) where Atlanta faced 10 men after a red card, things would’ve looked much worse. Atlanta scored it’s only goal on nine shots taken during this span to Miami’s zero. Take that away and the stats would look much, much uglier (as if anyone who watched needs to parse the stats to understand the magnitude of the capitulation that this was).
I’m sorry, I cannot get over the fact that Miami was playing with an 18-year-old and 19-year-old in midfield against Santiago Sosa and Amar Sejdic and there was no discernible difference in quality between the two. That’s an opportunity to overwhelm two inexperienced players — both of which are playing key roles — and Atlanta didn’t create much of anything until Miami gave up the ball in the aforementioned final 15 minutes. Atlanta United didn’t create a single shot until after 20 minutes had transpired in the game. That’s just not fun. That’s not why we tune in to watch. This is not how you create fans and an entertainment product. I’m not asking for much here, I get that not every game is going to be great. But when you consider yourself to be a good team, good teams don’t create zero shots in the opening 20 minutes against that Inter Miami team Saturday. Bad teams do that. Right now, Atlanta United is a bad team.
How warm is Gonzalo Pineda’s seat?
First, as someone who covers the team and talks to Pineda on a (semi) regular basis, I will never call for his job. Frankly, I don’t want to see him go, and I’m not saying that he necessarily should. Most of all, because it’s not up to me, and it’s not my opinion that matters. That’s a decision for Garth Lagerwey and Carlos Bocanegra to take, and they will have their own process to measure performance and listen to their customers — the fans. Not me or anyone else covering the team.
That said, the team looks bad, as I’ve already ranted about. The players look unhappy on the field. They seem frustrated and directing each other’s responsibilities on the field. When this doesn’t work, players like Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo just go rouge and take matters into their own hands, dribbling and spinning like whirling dervishes up the field to try to make something happen, with a tepid shot on goal being one of the better results from these phases of play.
The players just seem disjointed and without much direction or purpose on the field. Of course, you have some backups that are playing like Machop Chol, and some not in their natural positions like Derrick Etienne Jr. playing on the right wing. So it’s understandable for the team not to be firing on all cylinders. But why were Phil Neville’s teenage midfielders able to slot in and do a respectable job? Sure, those players have talent and promise, but it takes more than talent to be able to work cohesively as a unit.
The roster and players matter, certainly. Many will point to Giorgos Giakoumakis’ absence as a contributing factor for the performance, but I’d say Franco Ibarra’s absence is perhaps even more vital. Either way, the fact that this team has fallen into this slump and cannot seem to get out of it is a concern and Pineda’s job to help course correct. As of now, the troubling form has passed its point of tolerability.