The frustration was evident on the faces and in the voices of Atlanta United’s players in the minutes after a spirit-sapping 3-2 loss to Dallas Wednesday.
Leading 2-1 in the 84th minute, the team allowed two goals in the final five minutes – one on a good counter-attack, the other off a fluky bounce – to lose all three points and momentum.
The good news is the team doesn’t have to deal with time letting the loss stew in their minds. They will play again at Philadelphia on Saturday.
“I think it’s a good thing because we can get this game out of our heads,” fullback Mikey Ambrose said of the quick turnaround.
The team still leads MLS in points (37), but the race for the Supporter’s Shield is more interesting because several teams, including Dallas (35), have games in hand on Atlanta United and can eventually pass it. Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel said it’s too early to worry about the Shield.
The loss was weird in a lot of ways.
Atlanta United fell behind 1-0 after Dallas scored on a free kick in the first half. They rallied with good goals from Josef Martinez – the first on an assist from Hector Villalba and the second on an assist from Miguel Almiron – and looked to be in control.
Manager Gerardo Martino subbed defense for offense with Miles Robinson on for Ezequiel Barco so that he could play five at the back.
The move backfired when Dallas started a counter-attack down the left side. Right fullback Franco Escobar moved up the field to close down Dallas’ Ryan Hollingshead, who was able to pass to Max Urruti, who was near midfield. Centerback Michael Parkhurst and Robinson moved to close down Urruti, who neatly backheeled a pass into space on the left for Tesha Akindele to run onto. Because Escobar was up field and Robinson had moved to close down Urruti, Akindele was in yards of space and with a straight line at Brad Guzan’s goal. He covered the last 30 yards and beat Guzan to his near corner for the tying goal.
Dallas struck again a few minutes later on a corner kick. The free kick swing in to the near post and was headed to the back post. The ball surprised Parkhurst, who tried to clear it, but wasn’t able to get enough on it. Robinson, also near the back post, tried to move to clear it, but Akindele got there first and put a shot under Guzan.
“Lesson is you can’t give it away like that,” Gressel said. “We didn’t reward ourselves. We played a good game. Came back from a goal down. And then to give it away. It just can’t happen.”
Philadelphia probably won’t have too much sympathy because Atlanta United scratched out a draw at TalenEnergy Stadium last year in the final minutes with a header from Tyrone Mears. It was his only goal of the season and salvaged a 2-2 draw.
No one was thinking about that on Wednesday.
Instead, the focus was one talking about keeping concentration for all 90 minutes so that points aren’t lost.
“It’s never easy losing, all losses hurt,” Martino said. “It’s one thing when you are outplayed by the opponent. Those losses, you can kind of accept that you were outplayed and try to move on. Especially in games when you feel like you deserved to win the game, those are tough to accept.”