It is safe to say Atlanta United has plenty of things to work on.
Atlanta United got off to a losing start in the MLS is Back Tournament on Saturday, falling 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night. A fourth-minute goal was Atlanta United’s outdoing in the Group E encounter, but a failure to finish up front combined with a lack of concentration at the back also played a part in the defeat.
“Football is a game of mistakes,” said Atlanta United head coach Frank De Boer in his postgame video conference. “We have to understand that who makes the less mistakes normally wins. Of course also we have to mark goals. That’s also an issue in soccer, so we have to improve in that.”
The absence of injured striker Josef Martinez was always going to leave a big void up front, but someone will have to step up and do better in terms of scoring in Atlanta United’s remaining matches if the ambitious team is to avoid a major letdown in Orlando, Florida.
Atlanta United was deployed in a 3-4-3 on Saturday and its attack created chances against a Red Bulls side that has often proven challenging, but De Boer’s side still could not muster up the necessary quality to get on the scoreboard. George Bello hit the crossbar in the first half, Manuel Castro failed to two put similar looks away early in the second, and a late header from Adam Jahn was denied by a solid save.
“The crosses have to be better, but also the occupation in the box has to be better and also the finishing,” said De Boer. “I think we had two crosses to Manuel Castro, and two times he mis-hit it. Then it’s not a shot on goal, but for me it was really good chance.
Also in the first half the cross that Brooks (Lennon) gave that was a little bit too hard maybe. Manuel couldn’t control it, and if it’s a little bit slower he probably can have an easy tap in or then control and have a very big opportunity.
“It’s not only the delivery, sometime it’s the player, sometimes it’s the delivery, sometimes it the occupation in the box itself.”
On the other end, Atlanta United surrendered a number of good looks. There was Florian Valot’s early strike, a Daniel Royer attempt a few minutes later that goalkeeper Brad Guzan stopped, a Cristian Casseres opportunity just before halftime that Guzan also denied, and another open Valot effort in the 63rd minute.
Clearly, Atlanta United cannot afford to keep giving up those type of looks if it is going to make a run in this competition.
“I think our spacing could have been better and obviously defensively we need to be much better,” said Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “Aside from the goal, they still have good chances and set pieces. There’s a lot of areas to look back at the tape and get better for all of us.”
The good news for Atlanta United is that there were some positives — including some of the play of attacking midfielder Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez — and that it has two group matches left to correct things.
What’s more, the team should get a bit healthier. Ezequiel Barco played but did not start against the Red Bulls because of niggling pain he had felt last week, and a few more days of recuperation may allow him to be inserted back into the lineup to give the attack a boost.
That timeframe will also allow Atlanta United to work on things at the back and across the board, something that is necessary in order to avoid suffering the type of disappointment that was experienced on Saturday.
“We’re Atlanta United. We’re expected to win every game we play in,” said midfielder Mo Adams. “Unfortunate not to get the result today I think, but we have to watch tape, we have to learn, we have to see areas to improve, but it doesn’t change anything.
“We have to still go out and play the two games and aim to win and then get out of the group stages.”