5 Five Stripes Thoughts: Better now than later for Atlanta United

Bad nights happen...

Mike Conti
September 04, 2018 - 3:22 pm
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s fortunate that Atlanta United was not playing a knockout game Sunday night in the Washington DC.

Over the course of a 34 game season, every team (even the best ones) are going to have bad nights.  Sunday was certainly one of those for Atlanta United, who were dominated in the second half of a 3-1 loss to DC United.  Summer holidays have not been kind to the Five Stripes.  They have now lost on Labor Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day (or at least their closest match to Memorial Day) this year.  Incredibly, they have no other losses this summer.

Not much about what happened Sunday night is worthy of commentary, because I look at what happened as an outlier performance.  But I will try to come up with a few small points about the loss to DC and the next two weeks ahead for Atlanta United:

1. Atlanta United has to do better when tough calls go against them.  I still have not seen a replay that convinces me that Ezequiel Barco fouled Paul Arriola in the penalty area in the 52nd minute Sunday.  In fact, one angle I saw showed that Barco didn’t even touch Arriola.  The fact that the Video Assistant Referee did not come in to play is dubious; but, that said, Atlanta United did not keep their composure after Wayne Rooney converted the penalty.  This is the third time I can remember this year where Atlanta United appeared to unravel after a game-changing call (Josef Martinez’s disallowed goal against Sporting Kansas City, and Martinez’s disallowed goal against Red Bulls, which were both reversed by VAR).  Bad calls are a part of the game.  They will almost certainly happen in the postseason.  Atlanta United has to do better to play on and not dwell on things they cannot control.

2. George Bello made a strong debut.  The 16-year-old from Douglasville has shown with Atlanta United’s U16 side and ATL UTD 2 that he can help the first team, and he got an opportunity to do so when he was subbed on for Tito Villalba in the 76th minute Sunday night.  I thought Bello gave Atlanta United a spark and was unafraid to get involved.  His cross in the 77th minute was intercepted by Russell Canouse and turned into DC’s third goal of the evening, but that happened 80 yards away from goal and I don’t think it would be fair to assign blame to Bello for that one.  With Atlanta United’s back-line thinned by injury and with Michael Parkhurst and Chris McCann walking the yellow card tightrope, I think Bello will get a chance to play again this year in MLS.

3. The Five Stripes have to convert their chances better.  We can get in to all kinds of advanced statistics like expected goals, chances per 90 minutes, and so forth.  Honestly, I am out of my depth in trying to comb through all of that.  What I do know is that Atlanta United had 22 shots on Sunday and only one goal.  DC United had nine shots and three goals.  Sixty percent of DC United’s shots on target went in.  Only 14 percent of Atlanta United’s shots on target went in.  The Five Stripes did a poor job of converting their chances Sunday, and a lot of that has to do with DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid.  But how many times this season do we have to discuss an opposing keeper having the game of his life to get a victory over Atlanta United?

4. Fingers crossed for good health during the International Break.  There is a chance Josef Martinez could play two matches for Venezuela over the next week (one in Miami and one in Panama City).  I would not assume that he will play both of those matches but it is possible.  An injury on an international call-up could have derailed Martinez’s entire season in 2017.  Now Atlanta United really needs him in bubble wrap.  Atlanta United’s record in matches in which Martinez did not score is not very good.  Romario Williams is also on international duty for Jamaica.  I don’t think Tata Martino gives Martinez a day off in Colorado when he returns from international duty because he is too indispensable at the moment.

5. Don’t rule out another meeting with DC United this year.  There’s no doubt that DC United has improved dramatically since Atlanta United beat them 3-1 on July 21.  They were extremely active in the summer transfer window, and dramatically upgraded their team with Hamid and Wayne Rooney.  DC United controls their playoff destiny with three games in hand on sixth place Montreal, a club they trail by six points.  And those two clubs meet again later this month at Audi Field.  I don’t expect Atlanta United to get dragged into a knockout game, partially because of New York City’s recent struggles, but if the worst occurred, you could see an Atlanta United-DC United match in the knockout round.  If not, I wouldn’t bet against DC against Philadelphia, Columbus or even New York City in a knockout game, which could throw them into a two-leg series with Atlanta United in the conference semifinals.​

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