Atlanta United: No need to panic, but trends emerging

Yes, Atlanta United has dropped six of a possible nine points from its first three home games, including Sunday’s 3-1 loss to D.C. United at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Yes, Atlanta United gave up a lead for the fourth game this season.

Yes, Atlanta United must now go on the road for two consecutive games against hot teams: NYCFC and Portland.

No, it’s not time to panic.

“We are a new team,” starting fullback Tyrone Mears said. “When you have a new team the expectation is usually low. But I think the start we’ve had, the players brought to the club, the coach we have, the expectation levels have been raised a lot. I think we still have to take into account we are a new team. We’ve been together for four months. Of course, we have the quality that we feel we can fight and finish in a playoff spot.”

The issues that ended Atlanta United’s chances of defeating D.C. United aren’t new to the team even if it is has played just eight games. They have been problems this season. The team failed to capitalize on several scoring chances, including two by Kenwyne Jones and two by Hector Villalba, who only had to not hit D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s foot with a shot on one of his missed chances. He hit the foot.

The team has created 70 chances this season, fifth-most in MLS, including a season-high 21 against D.C. United. That total was almost twice as much as its next best total, 12 against Chicago, which played with 10 men for the game’s final 78 minutes. Atlanta United has scored 18 goals, second-most in MLS.

“The good thing is we are creating chances and that’s important for us,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “What we have to do is when we are ahead in the game we can’t give the other team an opportunity to come back in the game. We have to make sure we don’t give the other team those chances to score.”

👌#ATLUTD 1 - 0 @dcunited pic.twitter.com/Sz2BwwTYzx— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 30, 2017

Once Atlanta United got the deserved lead, it couldn’t sustain the energy it displayed in dominating the game’s first 20 minutes. Captain Michael Parkhurst said the team started with the right mentality and “went downhill pretty quick.”

Not being able to sustain a level of play has been the case throughout the season, even in games it has won: Short periods of brilliance followed by some long periods of breath-holding. Real Salt Lake was able to claw back into the previous game and cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 before the Five Stripes pulled away for a 3-1 win. Atlanta United allowed two goals in its first game to lose to New York Red Bulls 2-1. It gave up two goals in the second half against Montreal in a 2-1 loss. The team was forced to play with just 10 men in the second half of that game.

Some of that can be attributed to the team’s inexperience of playing together. Some can be attributed to some of the players’ lack of experience in MLS. Some on Saturday can be attributed to the team missing leading scorer Josef Martinez and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, which was referenced by Mears in his post-game comments. Parkhurst even mentioned the heat and a dry field as factors on Sunday.

“The mood of the team changed because of our errors,” Martino said. “That’s what ultimately decided the game. We were missing that conviction to deal with adversity today.”

So how does the team bounce back with upcoming road games against NYCFC, winners of two of its last three, and Portland, which has seven points from its past four games?

Mears said the team will work harder during training. For the next game it likely won’t have Martinez, Jacob Peterson (injury) and could be without Yamil Asad if he is suspended by the MLS disciplinary committee after he appeared to raise an elbow and jam it across the jaw of a D.C. United player. Additionally, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez also raised an elbow at a D.C. United player. A foul was called on Asad. No foul was called on Pirez.

The good news is the team has earned eight points from five road games this season, compared to just three from three home games. It has experience to draw from.

“We’ve shown we can get results on the road,” Parkhurst said. “We have to. We missed this opportunity today. It’s our only home game in a seven-game span and we took nothing from it. We have to pick up points on the road.”