Atlanta United focusing on regrouping

Atlanta United midfielder Carlos Carmona, left, of Chile defends New York City FC forward David Villa (7) of Spain center as New York City FC Rodney Wallace watches, right, during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Caption
Atlanta United midfielder Carlos Carmona, left, of Chile defends New York City FC forward David Villa (7) of Spain center as New York City FC Rodney Wallace watches, right, during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For the first time in a long time, Atlanta United is starting to look like an expansion team.

Following Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to NYCFC — manager Gerardo Martino said they were the inferior team for the whole game — the Five Stripes have been outscored 6-2 in their past two games and must next play at Portland, one of MLS’ best teams, on Sunday.

The offense has looked ineffective the past 160 minutes while players on defense have sometimes looked as if they are wearing roller skates.

But don’t expect to see wholesale changes in an attempt to jump-start the squad.

“We will evaluate everything this week,” Martino said. “We have to see who is recovering and what players will be available. I also think that we played a very good first six, seven games. Just because we’ve played two poor games, it doesn’t mean we have to modify everything.”

The team will again likely be without injured players Josef Martinez, who remains the leading scorer with five goals even though he hasn’t played in the past six games, and winger Jacob Peterson. Martino said he doesn’t anticipate either of them in training this week.

The team should have the services of Yamil Asad, who was suspended for the NYCFC game after earning a red card in the previous week’s 3-1 loss to D.C. United, and midfielder Andrew Carleton, who has been with the U.S. Under-17 national team.

The transfer window closes today. Atlanta United isn’t expect to make any additions and will move forward with what it has. The club worked well early, taking eight points from its first five games. It has taken just three from four games since.

“We aren’t going to make excuses that we are a new team and are still getting to know each other,” midfielder Miguel Almiron said. “We’ve played some good teams and are going to keep working harder than we have been to keep working forward.”

Captain Michael Parkhurst said the team must get back to playing for each other, which he said they were doing earlier in the season, and getting early leads.

“This is a challenge for us,” he said. “This is the first time this team is facing some adversity where it’s two games in a row that not only do we lose but we don’t play well. This is a testing time for us on how we can regroup, how we can come out in our next game and pull things together and have a better performance.”

Tactically, for most of the past two games and for a good deal of the win against Real Salt Lake three games ago, the team hasn’t been able to accomplish either of the things that worked earlier in the season: slow build-up play out of the back end, or quick counter-attacks that typically start with a forced turnover.

Not having Martinez, who is very quick, is a factor in taking advantage of turnovers, but Hector Villalba and Kenwyne Jones, who have played striker in his absence, have scored goals.

Why the team hasn’t been able to play out of the back is a bigger mystery. Whether it’s the tactics of the opposition or a lull for Atlanta United, the team hasn’t been able to string together enough passes to spark many offensive threats.

“Every team in MLS I’ve been on goes through these periods,” Parkhurst said. “Every team. Look at the results in MLS this weekend. Teams go through it. We’ve gone through it now twice in a row here. This is a testing time for us. An expansion team maybe is slower to come out of it. But we don’t see ourselves as an expansion team, so we will come out of this quickly.”

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