Atlanta United will play consecutive home games for the first time this season after playing a league-high seven road games to start the season. That run punctuated by Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Portland in which the team showed a renewed commitment to the tactics that served it well earlier.
The coaches and players couldn’t be happier.
“It’s nice to go home and unpack for the first time in a couple of months,” goalkeeper Alec Kann said.
The team went 2-2-3 on the road, good for nine points in seven games, an acceptable ratio for teams attempting to stay in the race for the six playoff spots in each conference.
“Our mentality has been pretty good on the road so far,” said midfielder Julian Gressel, who scored his first goal in the draw at Portland’s Providence Park. “You wish to pick up another win here or there but it’s been pretty good and we’ve been in games and grounded out results. That’s what you have to do on the road and still be lucky here or there to clinch three points.
“Now, we’re excited to be at home two games in a row. We have to take care of business at home and win our home games.”
With 12 points, Atlanta United is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind sixth-place Chicago. The Five Stripes are one of five teams within five points of sixth.
“Considering the types of teams we’ve played on the road, we’ve done well,” manager Gerardo Martino said.
Atlanta United must improve its home form if it is to post consecutive wins for the second time this season.
It is 1-2 at Bobby Dodd Stadium with a win against Chicago and losses to New York Red Bulls and D.C. United.
Atlanta United will host Houston, the Western Conference leader which is tied for a league-high 21 goals scored, at 7 p.m. on Saturday and then NYCFC the next week. Atlanta United was beaten by NYCFC 3-1 at Yankee Stadium on May 7.
The loss to NYCFC was arguably the worst game Atlanta United has played and may have sparked the team to stop trying to play long balls up the field and get back to playing short passes that start with the defense. It’s a tactic the team used well at the beginning of the season but slowly drifted away from. That also coincided with the continued absence of injured striker Josef Martinez.
The team recommitted to the build-it-from-the-back approach against Portland and dominated possession with 70 percent of the ball. Martino described his team’s play as “excellent” and it was the better team on the field .
“It’s been the best we’ve done all year,” Gressel said. “We worked a lot on it coming out of the game last week. We did a long video session about it. We knew what we had to do (Sunday) to accomplish that. Overall, it helped us. We were possessing the ball very well and creating chances through that.”
While that possession advantage didn’t turn into a lot of shots (seven, three on goal), it did create several opportunities. Miguel Almiron passed up two decent shooting chances in the first half .
“I think both teams were guilty of not being more determined in the final third,” Martino said. “That’s probably why you saw a low-scoring game. On both sides, they would get to the final third and not capitalize.”