Atlanta United has a chance Sunday in Montreal to do something it has failed to do this year in MLS: overcome adversity on the road.
While it has won six games away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, tied for second-most in the league this season, Atlanta United has yet to win when it allows the first goal. It perplexes manager Frank de Boer, who said the trend can’t continue because the playoffs will start in three weeks. If Atlanta United can’t rally on the road, defending the MLS Cup doesn’t seem likely. He said the players need to be focused and competing for every ball from the opening minute.
“We need a guarantee that if you are going to play away again, we will be there in that moment,” he said. “It’s the playoffs now. You have to show it every time. That’s why this Montreal game is important.”
Its 4-1 loss at NYCFC on Wednesday was the ninth time this season that the Five Stripes eventually capitulated when allowing the first goal. De Boer lamented that his team hasn’t even scraped out a draw in road games when it allows the first goal. It is 0-8-0 when that happens.
“That’s also something to put in the back of our minds,” he said. “We have to try to avoid that. It has influence at the end.”
De Boer said the issue isn’t with the tactics. It’s with the mentality. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan said something similar Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. He noted that as soon as an opponent scores, he can see his teammates’ heads drop and attitudes change.
Miles Robinson said he doesn’t know why the team has a problem rallying. In its history, it is 4-19-8 overall when the opponent scores first, including 1-16-2 in road games. During last year’s run to the Cup, it was 3-7-3 when the opponent scored first, including 1-6-0 in road games. But he expressed confidence that the team can turn around the worrying trend.
“I think always when you come off a defeat, especially something like last game, everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror and realize what we’re playing for,” he said. “We just have to come out firing. I think everyone has that type of mentality where you don’t want to lose two games ever in a row. I think everyone has that type of personality on our team.”
Though Atlanta United has played more games (42) across all competitions than any other team in MLS this season, and dealt with numerous injuries to key players such as Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez, de Boer said those factors shouldn’t be excuses. Barco could return for this weekend’s game. While Martinez jogged before Friday’s training session, de Boer said he won’t play Sunday.
Atlanta United needs three points from Montreal because it is competing for second place in the East. The difference between the second seed and the third, which is where Atlanta United currently sits with no possibility of dropping into fourth, is the possibility of hosting one more home playoff game. Atlanta United is 11-2-3 at home this season.
“We’ve shown already that we are more vulnerable away than home,” de Boer said. “So, for us, it’s very important that we are going to be as high as possible. That’s our goal.”
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