Atlanta United handles defending set pieces

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Atlanta United handles defending set pieces

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Portland’s Sebastian Blanco, center, tries to corral the ball as Atlanta United’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (5) defends in an MLS match at in Portland, Ore., Sunday, May 14, 2017. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)

The first goal allowed by Atlanta United in its inaugural season came on a set piece. The most recent goal allowed by Atlanta United this season came on a set piece.

The good news is those are the only set-piece goals allowed by the MLS expansion team this season.

The bad news is it’s two too many, captain Michael Parkhurst said. More bad news: On Saturday the team will host Houston, which leads MLS with six set-piece goals scored this season.

“You never want to give up a set piece, especially in a game we are dominating,” Parkhurst said. “It happens every now and then. We learn from it. Correct it. Try not to let it happen again. They are an important part of the game.”

The set-piece goals places Atlanta United in the middle of the 22 MLS teams, according to stats provided by the league. New York Red Bulls have conceded the most (4) and NYCFC the fewest (0).

The first goal came on a corner kick against the New York Red Bulls and tied the score at 1-1. Atlanta United lost 2-1.

The second goal came on a free kick against Portland and also tied the score at 1-1. Atlanta United played to a draw.

Mark Bloom said he takes responsibility for the goal against Portland. It was his foul that led to the free kick about 40 yards from the goal near the sideline. He described it as a soft foul.

Atlanta United set up with a high line — where the players get as far from the goal as they can — because Parkhurst said that when Kenwyne Jones isn’t on the field, the team likely won’t be as tall as the other team and wants to keep the opponent as far away from the penalty box as possible. A high line helps them defend. The line was set by Yamil Asad because he was the person on the end, according to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

The ball was struck well with a perfect flight, curling in from the left, away from the goal. Parkhurst said he didn’t see the ball well. He and/or Bloom didn’t prevent Liam Ridgewell from running onto the cross for the goal.

“It was a great ball put in, but we need to be better clearing it, and I need to be better recognizing the danger,” Parkhurst said.

Parkhurst said he should have attacked the ball. It would have been difficult for either him or Bloom to clear it without it resulting in an own goal. Goalkeeper Alec Kann was following the ball as it came across the goal and started to move out to try to catch it before he stopped as the ball bounced in front of a crowd of people, none of whom touched it before Ridgewell caught up to it and headed it in.

“On several different plays people could have done better, and for myself, I could have done better, for sure,” Bloom said. “It’s definitely something I’m going to learn from.”

Defending set pieces is something that Bloom said the team discusses before every game. Last season, 21.5 percent of the goals scored in MLS came on direct or indirect free kicks (non-penalty kicks), according to Opta, which provides stats for MLS.

Atlanta United’s ratio of two set-piece goals on 15 goals allowed (13.3 percent) falls well below last season’s percentage.

“It’s really something we’ve got to work harder to protect,” Bloom said. “At the same time, two goals in 10 matches is not terrible.”

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