The crowd in the stadium was loud. The turf hard, rough and puzzling. The energy palpable.
And Atlanta United, as it has done a few times in its previous two years, came out flatter than a crepe in a 3-1 loss to Herediano in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League series on Thursday with owner Arthur Blank in the stands watching.
Herediano, sparked by fans waving balloons in the team’s colors of red and yellow, chanting and singing loudly enough to make 7,000 seem like twice that many, took advantage of at least three Atlanta United mistakes on each of its goals.
It was exactly what Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz predicted on Tuesday when they said that Herediano’s players would come out and try to play the games of their lives.
Asked after the game if Atlanta United matched Herediano’s intensity, Parkhurst’s answer was to the point.
He then continued.
“We knew they would come out firing and flying,” he said. “We talked about being safe. It’s disappointing to give up the early goal. Gives them more fire and more belief. Tactically we weren’t good. We were stretched. We weren’t disciplined.”
The performance reminded one of last year’s season-opening 4-0 loss at Houston, or the loss at Red Bulls in September that arguably cost the team the Supporters’ Shield, or the loss at Toronto in the finale that did cost the team the Shield.
“Intensity is something you have to bring in a game like this,” Larentowicz said. “I don’t think we brought enough or if it was well focused.”
Larentowicz’s point was that when the team did show energy, it wasn’t done as a group. As a result, some players ran themselves out of position. Or the team didn’t play defense as a group.
On Herediano’s second goal, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez moved up in tandem to press a Herediano player with the ball. It was a press in a situation in which the team wasn’t supposed to press. Not recognizing the danger, no one slid over or back to fill the holes in the middle of the back line. Atlanta United didn’t win the ball and an easy pass through the press found an open Randall Azofeifa running through the middle of the field. He beat Brad Guzan for a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute.
“Like I said, another example of being disjointed,” Larentowicz said. “Not being focused, doing the right thing in the right moment.”
Manager Frank de Boer had a slightly different take.
He thought after allowing the first goal that his players may have been too emotional in trying to quickly respond. The over-eagerness opened seams in Atlanta United’s formation. Maintaining the discipline to keep that formation is something the team worked on for four weeks in training camp.
It’s something that Parkhurst said de Boer spoke to them about after the game.
“I think we were a little bit naive sometimes,” de Boer said. “We played very open.”
The second leg of the series will be Thursday in Kennesaw. The chance of Atlanta United advancing is difficult. The easiest way to the quarterfinals of the tournament would be to shut out Herdiano and score at least two goals. Though on aggregate the teams would be tied 3-3, Atlanta United would advance because it scored an away goal. Should Herediano score one goal at Kennesaw State, Atlanta United would need to score at least three to force more soccer.
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