Guess which Atlanta United manager said this about the the team’s attack following a loss:
“I think we need to create more chances. We are creating some. But we need to create more. We need to keep trying this last pass, keep trying through passes.”
And which one said this:
“We are going to do that. We will do that together. When we come back to Marietta we will try to get everyone back on their feet again and get confidence and show the quality the team has.”
And which one said this:
“We know that the last few games we haven’t been as we want to be in that part of the field. And we want to improve.”
The quotes have a similar theme, right?
The first one was from Gabriel Heinze in 2021 following a loss to Chicago.
The second was Frank de Boer following the disastrous MLS is Back tournament in Orlando in 2020 during which Atlanta United was the only team to fail to score.
The last was Gonzalo Pineda ahead of last week’s loss at Miami, which Atlanta United lost 2-1 and barely mounted an attack until the hosts were reduced to 10 men in the final minutes. This despite Miami starting two teenagers in the midfield and Atlanta United fielding a team composed mostly of veterans.
The loss to Miami had a theme that goes back to 2019: the team dominated possession but the opponent finished with more quality shots and a higher expected goals total. Atlanta United has finished with a lower xG in five consecutive games, according to fbref.com.
So, if the managers have changed from de Boer to Stephen Glass to Heinze to Rob Valentino to Pineda, and the players have mostly changed, why can’t Atlanta United break out of this offensive malaise?
To be fair, Atlanta United has scored the second-most goals (20) in MLS this season. It can also be argued that the stat is a bit flattering because it scored eight of those goals in two games against overmatched opponents Portland and Charlotte, and three more have come on golazos from Thiago Almada.
In the past four games across all comps, Atlanta United has scored five goals. This despite fielding at some point during three of the last four matches at least two Designated Players.
The inability to field a consistent offense are partly why de Boer was let go after the Orlando debacle, and Heinze was let go after the team managed just 13 goals in its first 13 games.
A commonality from 2020 through Saturday’s defeat at Miami has been the lack of a healthy, or effective, striker.
De Boer’s team in 2020 was without Josef Martinez, who suffered a torn ACL in the opener. Heinze didn’t have an effective Martinez in 2021. Pineda didn’t have a fully healthy Martinez last season. Of course, the team bought out Martinez and brough in Giorgos Giakoumakis. When he has been healthy, Atlanta United’s offense has looked much better. But he has been dealing with a recuring hamstring issue that has forced him to miss the past three games. Atlanta United has scored just three goals in those games.
Not having a healthy striker can effect the confidence of a team. It’s the same as a football team playing with a backup quarterback or a fifth starter in baseball taking the mound. The “edge” can be taken off.
Atlanta United hasn’t played with a consistently sharp edge in a long time.
When the manager has changed and the DPs have changes and the core players in the roster have changed, what is the answer?
Perhaps its the scouting model that the team uses for each position. Perhaps there is an overreliance on something such as ball skill and less value on something like in-game initiative.
Perhaps Giakoumakis will return for Saturday’s game against Charlotte at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and follow with a consistent run of games during which Atlanta United will find its form.
If Giakoumakis can’t, Pineda may want to consider alternative tactics because what is being tried isn’t working well the past few games.
What Atlanta United is trying isn’t working well the past few seasons.
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1
March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1
April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0
April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1
April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2
April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1
April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1
May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA