Ezequiel Barco’s goal in the 70th minute salvaged a point for Atlanta United in a lethargic 1-1 draw with Philadelphia on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Barco’s header, three minutes after he came into the game, offset a goal by Brenden Aaronson in the 47th minute. It also saved Atlanta some embarrassment because its offense was again simply not as efficient as it once was with just one shot on goal before Barco’s first goal this season in front of an announced attendance of 42,651.
Atlanta United controlled 71 percent of the possession, but managed put just two shots on goal.
“One-one is a very disappointing result for everyone that loves Atlanta United, but they can be proud of the team that straightened the back when they were 1-nil down and tried to get the winning goal,” manager Frank de Boer said.
Despite less than a week ago saying that he didn’t want to change formations unless the team has a week to train, de Boer mixed things up with his formation, eschewing the wingbacks on the flanks in favor of a diamond midfield with Jeff Larentowicz at the base in front of the three centerbacks, Darlington Nagbe at the top playing underneath striker Josef Martinez, with Eric Remedi on the left and Julian Gressel on the right. Flanking Josef Martinez were Pity Martinez and Hector Villalba, in for Barco.
De Boer said he changed the formation because he feels it gives the team a numerical advantage on defense, which should free up a man on offense. But he said Atlanta United had trouble finding the open man against a disciplined Philadelphia defense. He said fatigue was also a factor because it was Atlanta United’s seventh game in slightly more than three weeks. Philadelphia was playing its third.
The diamond midfield was a sea change for the team, which going back to previous manager Gerardo Martino had always used attacking fullbacks, even in a four-man backline. It’s also a formation never before used by the team.
The formational change may have been to try to spark an offense that hasn’t created many chances resulting in it scoring one goal or fewer in five of its previous six games. The results are much different than in each of the previous two seasons when it scored 70 goals.
“We want to create more chances and score more goals,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “We are trying to do that. The idea isn’t just to outpossess a team. That’s not what we are going into a game thinking. We’re thinking we want to score goals and create chances and be offensive, pin teams in the other half. It’s not happening right now for us. It’s not clicking.”
Atlanta United failed to put a shot on goal through the first 20 minutes. Philadelphia created a few opportunities but twice failed to touch in passes that went across the face of the goal. On the last, goalkeeper Brad Guzan was hit in the head as players lunged for the ball and stayed down for several minutes. He was cleared by the attending personnel and continued. He had a black eye and a cut above his left eye in the locker room.
Recognizing things weren’t working well on either end, de Boer elected to change formations to a 4-4-2.
Atlanta United got off its first shot in the 36th minute when Pity Martinez hit a slicing effort from outside the penalty box that landed closer to one of the tunnels in the corner than the goal.
Villalba cranked another shot a few seconds later, but it rolled wide.
Josef Martinez came closest in the 38th minute when he slid into a cross from Pity Martinez. The shot slammed into the crossbar. Josef Martinez slid into goalkeeper Andre Blake and stayed down for several minutes as personnel examined him. He eventually got up and limped off the field. He quickly resumed running and came back onto the field.
Miles Robinson kept the tie when he sprinted back to clear a Fifa Picault shot off the line in the 41st minute. Picault had rounded Guzan and had an open goal. Robinson did something similar in the season-opening game at Herediano.
Philadelphia grabbed a 1-0 in the 47th minute when 18-year-old Aaronson, in his MLS debut, scored on a shot that appeared to take a slight deflection off Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, which left Guzan stranded.
“... At times, it’s too easy for teams,” Guzan said. “Teams aren’t breaking us down. Teams aren’t combining 15-20 passes and scoring wonder goals. It’s too easy from our point of view in terms of ability of teams to get chances and ultimately to the goals that were conceded.”
Still, the futility on offense continued with zero shots on goal through 63 minutes.
Atlanta United finally put a shot on goal in the 65th minute when Josef Martinez tried a bicycle kick that forced Blake to dive low and to his left.
Atlanta United scored the tying goal in the 70th minute when Barco connected on a cross from Gressel for a header into the opposite corner. It was the team’s second shot on goal.
The draw dropped Atlanta United to 0-0-2 at home this season. Atlanta United went 11-2-4 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the 2018 regular season. In the two losses to Sporting KC and New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United players received red cards.
“We need to have a bit more bit about us, a bit more intensity,” Guzan said. “You can talk about the amount of games. It goes back to what I said, when you cross the white line you have to compete.”
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