Atlanta United must move past ‘embarrassing’ defeat to get ready for Red Bulls

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said playing a loaded MLS schedule is a good thing. It helps his team move on from poor games and focus on the next one.

And that’s exactly what they’ll do after their “embarrassing” defeat against Chicago, he said.

Atlanta United matched or broke records in the worst possible ways against the Fire on Wednesday. The 5-1 loss tied for the largest margin against the Five Stripes. The five goals scored against them — all in the first half — also are the most in Atlanta United’s short history. With a high-stakes match up against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, de Boer said they can’t dwell on that performance, but instead must focus on the coming challenge.

“We have to understand that this can never happen again,” de Boer said. “But you have so many games ahead of you that you can recover. Hopefully, we can have a good response from this.”

After watching film Friday morning, de Boer reinforced his postgame assessments, saying it was a holistic loss. But as frustrating as it was, it’s not as important in the bigger picture of the season. The Five Stripes (9-7-2) still sit in playoff contention, holding fourth place in the East with 29 points. But the Red Bulls (8-7-3) aren’t far behind, currently ranked sixth with 27 points. New York, too, recently suffered a four-goal defeat, losing to Houston 4-0 on Wednesday.

Sunday’s matchup is pivotal for both teams — as well as the conference in general. Atlanta United can’t afford to sulk.

“We have to show everybody that we are a better team than this,” de Boer said.

The Red Bulls are a familiar opponent for Atlanta. The Five Stripes defeated New York in the MLS Cup playoffs last year, but lost to them in their first regular-season meeting this May. Defender Michael Parkhurst said the squads knowing one another should make for an interesting game.

“You have to be ready for the fight,” he said. “They like to make it a physical battle. We have to match that and then hopefully let our soccer take over. We expect an intense physical game because that's what it always is against the Red Bulls.

“It's a home game. It's going to be a big crowd, national television. We learn from our lessons and we own it. But the most important thing right now is to prepare for Red Bulls and then make sure that we have a good performance there.”

Atlanta United will play without defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who was cited with a red card against Chicago. But it will regain 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez, the forward who spent the past month playing for the Venezuelan national team in Copa America. All but one of the Five Stripes’ losses have come on the road. De Boer said he wants his team to have the same intensity away as it does in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and New York should provide a good test.

And from what they’ve said, they’re up for the challenge.

“I think that it will be tight until the end,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “There's not really one team that will go separate from the pack. We're just going to have to keep plugging away and collect as many points as we can. That's really the mindset that we've had and that we’ll continue to have anywhere we play.”