Atlanta United likely to be defined by what’s to come, not what happened in DC

Mike Conti
March 04, 2019 - 8:39 am

WASHINGTON, DC – The puzzling trend of Atlanta United’s struggles in the Nation’s Capital converged with their propensity to drop their season openers Sunday night in a frustrating 2-0 loss to DC United.  Atlanta United was outplayed.  As they were in Houston in 2018.  As they were by New York Red Bulls in 2017.

Fortunately, in 2017 and 2018, Atlanta United shook off the early setbacks quickly, rebounding in both cases to make the playoffs, and win the MLS Cup in 2018.  There’s no reason to think the same cannot be the case in 2019.

If nothing else, I think Atlanta United supporters can be buoyed by Frank de Boer’s “go for it” mentality.  Rather than play a lineup of reserves Sunday night, de Boer decided to send out a group of mostly first choice players, throwing caution over the busy six match in 18 day stretch to the wind.  And when the Five Stripes conceded their second goal in the 59th minute, de Boer made a pair of attack-minded substitutions, introducing Julian Gressel and Pity Martinez rather than concede the outcome.

Conditions had an ugly imprint on Sunday’s match, and frankly it’s a testament to DC United that anyone was able to score in that kind of weather.  The conditions ranged from a steady downpour to an all out deluge, with players chilled to the bone by near freezing temperatures.  The Audi Field pitch was water logged, and as the second half wore on, both teams found it difficult to connect passes as the ball was sloshing around on the grass.  I’m not trying to offer an excuse for Atlanta United, but there is no doubt the weather played a role in how the match played out.

Atlanta United was 6-0-1 in 2018 in the match immediately following a loss, and dropped points in consecutive matches only once during their MLS Cup run.  I feel like Atlanta United was defined by their resiliency in 2018, and the same will hopefully be true in 2019.  If Atlanta United goes to Monterrey, Mexico and gets any kind of result on Wednesday, any angst over what happened here in Washington Sunday will quickly wash away.  This is a golden opportunity for Atlanta United to go toe-to-toe against one of the best clubs in Mexico.  I don’t expect them to waste that opportunity.

For them to get a positive result Wednesday, a few things need to happen.  Josef Martinez needs to get service.  It wasn’t there at all Sunday night, though part of that is a credit to the way DC United closed down everything rapidly in the final third.  Atlanta United was reduced to just two shots on target Sunday night, both of them from 35 yards out.  Once Pity Martinez entered the match, it became somewhat easier for players like Brek Shea and Julian Gressel to pump in crosses, and one is to assume Pity starting Wednesday’s match will open things up even further.

While it’s hard to pick out many positives from a 2-0 loss, I really feel like Miles Robinson deserves a measure of recognition for the job he has done all year, and especially Sunday night.  There were several occasions where he was able to track back and close down Wayne Rooney, a demonstration of Robinson’s grit against a top class player.  Robinson seems to be working just fine as a right-center back, though I honestly felt he was just fine in the middle last Thursday night in Costa Rica.  Jason Longshore believes that Robinson is a national team player in the making, and I’m beginning to agree, although the sample size remains small.

Atlanta United is training in Washington DC on Monday, then they will charter directly to Mexico.  They will train in Monterrey on Tuesday and will play Rayados on Wednesday.  You can hear that match on 1380 AM WAOK, and all of the usual streaming services.  Jason will join me in Mexico on Tuesday, where we will provide additional coverage on our social streams.​