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Two thoughts on a disappointing epic comeback that wasn’t against New England

Defensive calamities spoil what should’ve been a celebratory night

SOCCER: MAY 31 MLS - Atlanta United FC vs New England Revolution Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What does Gonzalo Pineda (or Garth Lagerwey) do at goalkeeper?

Atlanta United’s 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution last night shone a light on a particular vulnerability the team has between the posts at the goalkeeper position. Of course, this is nothing new for the team or it’s fans. The position has been a total cluster ever since Brad Guzan went down with a devastating Achilles rupture last season. With his return this year, we all hoped the chaos would be resolved, but unfortunately Guzan triumphant return from injury has not provided the expected results.

Stepping away from Guzan in particular for a second, Atlanta United goalkeepers have a league-worst save percentage at just 52.5%. For context, the next worst Real Salt Lake, is nearly 10 percentage points higher at 61.2%. That is nearly two standard deviations away from the next-worst team. By contrast, the top four in this stat are Nashville (2nd in East) leading the league at 83.3%, St. Louis (2nd in West) at 79.1%, Cincinnati (1st in East) at 77.3% and LAFC (3rd in West) at 76.7%.

And here’s more context: Atlanta is tied for 6th-best in MLS having only allowed 60 shots against them this season, and that’s with other teams above them having played fewer game. The team has allowed 19.4 expected goals against (xGA), but has conceded 28 this year. Overall, a reading of the goalkeeping data shows that while Atlanta has been pretty unlucky in terms of the shots really finding the corners against them, no team is more likely to concede when a shot is on target than Atlanta United.

And back to Guzan:

I still believe there are things Guzan brings to the table that are concretely helpful, but it’s just reality that allowing goals at the rates described nullifies it all. Guzan looked understandably off in some of his first games this year after returning from his Achilles injury. It takes reps to adjust to the true speed and chaos of a competitive match. And considering another recent return from a knee injury, maybe you can chalk up some of these mistakes to the same factors. But if the situation is as bad as it is right now, and you know you’re going to need to find a successor at the position for next year anyway, would Garth Lagerwey and/or Carlos Bocanegra make a move for a goalkeeper in the summer? It would be a bold play both financially and roster-wise considering Guzan is the unquestioned team captain on and off the field. Relegating him to the backup role midseason would be painful. But it’s hard to argue that there wouldn’t be a more consequential move than upgrading in a position where the team is weakest.

This team is toying with people’s emotions and I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be able to take it

Miguel Berry’s golazo last night was the storybook ending. The home team screws up early but utterly dominates the rest of the game, forcing the ball into goal to draw level as if by sheer force, only for the backup striker who’s only taken three shots all year to lace a volley into the top corner. And everyone goes home with smiles on their faces.

Except, that’s not what happened. At least the last part. Instead of smiles and celebrations, it was boos ringing out at full time. Talking about this on Twitter last night, some people replied it was directed at the refs (which was later apparent to me as they were walking off the field and something was thrown at them), and others were saying it was for the refs AND the team.

Regardless, I understand the frustration completely. This is a talented roster that scores lots of goals (Atlanta is the only team to score in every match this season), and yet the results aren’t where they should be. And not only are the results not there, they’re being lost in the most painful ways in the last moments. The team has conceded a shocking 8 times in the 89th minute or later this season. If this keeps up much longer, I’m not so sure how much fans can deal with it. It’s already gotten to the point where expectations for a win are diminished even when Berry scores the goal he did.

These poor people just want to be happy.