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Three thoughts on Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw at D.C. United

“Some parts maybe good, some parts maybe ****”

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United is an improved team, but hardly flawless

We’ve talked a lot on this website, in these columns and on podcasts about how improved Atlanta United is after the additions of Tristan Muyumba, Xande Silva and Saba Lobajanidze (among others) during the summer transfer window.

Atlanta’s best XI (which we still haven’t seen start a game together, I might add) is clear and there aren’t many holes in that group. But despite how improved the players are individually, collectively there is still a gap. That gap being the certain cohesion and understanding between players of how to manage situations in games, tactics presented by the opponent, etc. These gaps are mainly things that just need some time for these players to work through. So that Saba understands, for example, what situations GG will want the ball played into his feet vs running in behind. Or when Brooks Lennon should tuck inside, and how his teammates need to counter balance with their positioning.

These are small, nuanced aspects of the game, and sometimes it just takes a certain amount of time playing together in real-game situations to figure out. How much time is needed? There’s no definitive answer for that. Sometimes things can come together quickly — as we saw Atlanta rebound from a dreadful Supporters Shield collapse to win MLS Cup in 2018, and the following year they suddenly caught fire in the last leg of the season that nearly vaulted them to consecutive titles.

Atlanta United is not at a title-contender level yet, but these last four games are pivotal, and it remains to be seen whether they can ascend to yet another level of play by the time the MLS Cup Playoffs come around this fall.

Postive takeaway: A point

The thing about draws is that the worse you play, the better they are, and the better you play, the worse they are. Last night was a great point for Atlanta, which tells you a lot about the way they played (or at least the production that the play earned).

Atlanta United was blown out of the water in almost every statistical category that matters. Atlanta only created six shots for themselves in the entire game to DC’s 19. Those shot resulted in over 2 expected goals for DC to Atlanta’s 0.67. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if those numbers truly reflect how fortunate Atlanta was to get anything from this road trip.

But the point basically allowed Atlanta to hold serve, and remains in roughly the same position it was in the Eastern Conference landscape coming into the game. With four games to play, the team has a reasonable shot at a top four placement by the end of the season — one of the longstanding targets for the club entering this season. So, for as many concerns as fans might have from the performance, the way the dust settled isn’t so bad.

Saba scores again

Not only is Saba a treat to watch — a little whirling dervish who is unpredictable (in a good way) when the ball is at his feet — he can actually produce the goods. Last night, he was on the receiving end of a lovely bit of work from Tyler Wolff. But for all that Wolff did to set up the opportunity, it took real quality and anticipation on Saba’s part to ensure that the run of play resulted with something tangible on the scoreboard.

And there were several other moments where Saba flashed, similarly to what we’ve seen out of him so far in his Atlanta United tenure. The most memorable was his brilliant first touch to take down a long vertical pass as he was running in behind, and finished the move by beating two defenders and playnig Wolff into a dangerous area in space with a clever backheel. When you combine these evidentiary moments with the same that we’ve seen from Xande Silva, it is tantalizing to think about what this team can do with these two players on the field together — something we’ve hardly seen other than a fleeting moment or two.

As I mentioned at the top, we still haven’t seen this team work with the full complement of it’s new pieces. And that gives us a lot more to look forward to as we head into the final games of the season before shit gets real.