Atlanta United focused on what’s ahead: MLS playoffs

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino stressed that there can't be a hangover from Sunday's disappointing 4-1 loss at Toronto when his team starts the playoffs on Nov. 4.

“Something new is starting,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the regular season and what ended today. This season, putting aside the game tonight, we did very well but now we have to focus on the playoffs. We have to try to make sure that what took place in the last 90 minutes doesn’t have an effect on our performance.”

Atlanta United's opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinal has yet to be decided. It will be the remaining team, third-seeded NYCFC, fourth-seeded D.C. United, or fifth-seeded Columbus, with the highest seed after the knockout games are played on Wednesday and Thursday.

What is known is that Atlanta United must re-discover the mojo that carried it to 69 points and within 90 minutes of winning the Supporters’ Shield, which would have been its first trophy.

Outside of 45 minutes at Colorado, it’s been weeks since Atlanta United has played well. That slow decline culminated with the horrible performance against Toronto, an almost fitting bookend to the 4-0 loss at Houston that started the season on March 3.

“We did all this work starting Jan. 15 and we should have had a different performance today,” Martino said. “In a sense, we betrayed ourselves and threw away everything that we worked for this season.”

To get back its form, goalkeeper Brad Guzan said the players need to take the next few days and mentally regroup.

Guzan was criticized by some Atlanta United supporters for his performance against Toronto, but there wasn’t much he could have done to stop any of the first three goals because the scorers were left wide open by a defense that lacked discipline.

“We got to find a way,” he said. “Luckily for us we have a few days to get things sorted and look back at this game and make sure this doesn’t happen because you can’t go into the first leg of a playoff game and concede four goals. You don’t give yourself a fighting chance to go back home and play for the home leg. We got to figure it out. Nowhere near good enough.”

Captain Michael Parkhurst said that though the team missed out on the Supporters’ Shield, which was an important goal, the fact that there is still an MLS Cup to play for should be more than enough motivation.

Plus, the team seems likely to have Miguel Almiron return from a hamstring injury suffered three weeks ago. He didn’t play in the win against New England or the loss at Toronto.

Atlanta United is a different, more dangerous team with Almiron as an attacking midfielder. His speed, passing and shooting can unlock defenses.

“It will take a day or two but the season is not lost,” Parkhurst said. “We have another Cup to play for. We missed out on a couple this year but the biggest one is in front of us. We have a first round bye and we know we are guaranteed two more games so that’s an opportunity to correct it.”