Atlanta United cutting corners

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Atlanta United cutting corners

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Vancouver Whitecaps’ Kendall Waston celebrates his second goal against Atlanta United during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, June 3, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

Atlanta United’s problem scoring on corner kicks can be found among the reasons it had so many problems defending them in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Vancouver.

The team isn’t very tall.

Despite leading the league with 28 goals scored, the Five Stripes are one of five teams this season that have yet to score on a corner kick. If a team isn’t going to score on those, it needs to be able to defend them. However, Atlanta United has conceded three goals, two of which came in the loss to the Whitecaps, which is third-most in MLS behind Portland (5) and Philadelphia (4).

Chicago, Atlanta United’s opponent on Saturday, also has yet to score on a corner kick this season and has condeded three goals on corner kicks.

“It was collective and individual mistakes that doomed us,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Alec Kann said. “We learned a lot of lessons that we need to carry on in coming weeks.”

Though that did result in one of the goals, captain Michael Parkhurst said the remaining two goals allowed were about more than just Kendall Waston, a 6-foot-5 centerhalf, outjumping Atlanta United’s tallest field player, 6-1 Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

On the first goal, the team’s back line didn’t collectively move out or account for its spacing following the clearance of corner kick. When Vancouver won the clearance, and put the pass back into the penalty box near the back post, no one was there to stop Waston, who shrugged off Parkhurst’s tackle to score the tying goal in the 31st minute.

After Waston scored the second goal on a header in the 31st minute, another Waston header led to the third goal in the 68th minute by Fredy Montero. Parkhurst said there were marking issues on that play.

“All those little things that go into every detail cost us on the weekend,” Parkhurst said. “We can accept the fact that we are going to get outjumped and outmuscled sometimes, but if we clean up the other issues we will be all right throughout the rest of the season.”

Scoring goals on its corner kicks also has been a challenge.

Manager Gerardo Martino prefers his team take what is known as a short corner, in which one player passes it to another standing nearby, rather than using the traditional tactic of booting the ball into the penalty box in hopes someone can win a header. Really, the team’s best chance to do that is with 6-4 Kenwyne Jones, who is used more as a sub than a starter.

The players said this tactic is preferred because if the opponent sends two players to the corner to defend the short pass, there should be more space in the penalty box to try to exploit. If the opponent doesn’t send two players out, and just sends one, there should be a 2-on-1 situation to exploit.

The team just hasn’t been able to exploit any situations on corner kicks this season.

“It seems like we’ve done well to get goals in other ways,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “Set pieces aren’t really a place where we’ve found goals. You can’t go a whole year like that. But our set pieces are a work in progress right now.”

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