September 16, 2017 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) heads the ball in the second half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta United is making progress, but will it matter?

Atlanta United has improved on offense from its season-opening loss at D.C. United.

That can’t be denied.

While the results (the most important measurement) haven’t improved, manager Frank de Boer is actively trying to fix what wasn’t working. 

From that first game in the cold and rain against D.C. United at Audi Field, where the Five Stripes put two shots on Bill Hamid’s goal, Atlanta United is now creating goal-scoring chances and generating shots, 22 against Dallas in Saturday’s 2-1 loss, for example.

As de Boer said after the game, he can’t score the goals. 

“I think it was the best performance we saw right now,” he said. “I think this what we want, going out there and creating chances. Like I’ve said again and again, I cannot make them (the goals), they have to make them. We’ve all made goals, that’s for sure, and if we play like this we are going to win a lot of games.”

He wasn’t implying that Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba, Pity Martinez, Julian Gressel, etc. weren’t trying to hard enough to score.

It simply was a factual statement.

Keep in mind: Jesse Gonzalez had a heck of a game in goal for Dallas with seven saves, and Barco twice hit the post.

As Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson used to say, the other team is trying to win, too.

And, the other teams are winning right now because while the shots are coming they are simply not going in for Atlanta United:

Look at the stats:

» vs. Dallas: 9 shots, 2 on goal.

» vs. Cincinnati: 10 shots, 4 on goal.

» vs. Philadelphia, 12 shots, 2 on goal.

» vs. Columbus, 16 shots, 5 on goal.

» vs. New England, 19 shots, 8 on goal.

» vs. Dallas, 22 shots, 8 on goal.

De Boer spent a lot of time during the preseason working on improving the defense. The offense, at least based upon preseason results, seemed like it didn’t need much tinkering.

That, of course, proved to be wrong.

The offense struggled at Herediano. It struggled at Monterrey. It struggled at D.C.

So, de Boer, when he finally had time to work with the team after the glut of games to start the season, began working to find a balance between offense and defense.

A formation change was made from a 3-4-3 that experimented with both a flat midfield and then a diamond midfield to a 4-4-1-1. 

That change coincided with the increase in shots and shots on goal.

“I think we started the season playing one way,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “I think we kind of morphed and rotated and moved around, some personnel shifts, so yeah, possibly, but I think last week to go on the road and win and then this week create as many chances as we did. I feel like we’re sniffing around the right kind of thing right now.”

If anything, it could be argued that de Boer may have overcorrected because the defense continues to make critical mistakes that are being punished.

Dallas’ two goals came from individual errors: The first was Leandro Gonzalez Pirez attempting and failing at a tackle near midfield. The second was the lack of pressure on Edwin Cerrillo, who was one of two players who earned an assist on Bryan Acosta’s deciding goal.

It would be easy for some to say that those goals also were de Boer’s fault because he, as manager, is receiving the bulk of the complaints about the team’s lack of goals and results.

The truth is these types of mistakes have occurred all season. Go back to Herediano’s first and second goals. Monterrey’s last two goals in the first leg. Cincinnati’s goal. Columbus’ two goals. Just to name a few.

The second layer to that truth is those same types of individual mistakes were made the previous two seasons.

The biggest difference between this season and the previous two seasons is Atlanta United typically already was leading most of those games, so the mistakes and subsequent goals allowed didn’t make as as much of an impact.

The second layer to that difference is it seems every mistake being made by Atlanta United this season, whether it’s missing sitters or mental lapses on defense, are being punished. Almost every time.

It seems reasonable to assume that at some point the odds will even out. Josef Martinez won’t miss the ball against New England or the shot from a few yards against Dallas. Gonzalez Pirez will make the tackle against Dallas.

Until the odds swing back, Atlanta United’s improvement may not result in positive results.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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