Despite playing with a man advantage for the final 55 minutes, Atlanta United’s five-game win streak was snapped Sunday by a 1-0 loss at New York Red Bulls.
A header by Tom Barlow in the 65th minute proved the difference, ending Atlanta United’s shutout streak at 520 minutes, which was the longest in MLS this season. Atlanta United will play its seventh in a stretch of eight games in 28 days Friday when it visits Real Salt Lake.
"It was an ideal situation for us to get three points out of there, so everybody is very disappointed to not get even a point," Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. "I think we were the better team with 11, but we couldn't manage to create really good chances. Maybe it was because of the long stretch. We had a lot of sloppy passes. I don't think it was a lack of concentration. It was tiredness."
The defeat kept Atlanta United from moving from fourth in the East past Montreal. Instead, the Five Stripes (6-4-2) will stay at 20 points, one behind the Impact and four behind first-place Philadelphia, having played one less game.
Atlanta United couldn’t figure out how to unlock the Red Bulls after Tim Parker received a red card in the 35th minute for taking down Josef Martinez and denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Atlanta United took 13 shots, but put just two on target, which was the same amount as Red Bulls.
“We tried everything but were never able to finish it,” de Boer said. “The spirit was there but maybe the body and mind won’t do what you think you want to do.”
The game had the features of a budding rivalry, including a melee at the end after Hector Villalba and Kemar Lawrence exchanged words and chest bumps. Villalba said he thought that Lawrence went into a 50-50 ball at the end of the game with bad intentions, which is why he bumped him with his chest. First, Villalba mimed holding up the MLS Cup in a nod to the team knocking the Red Bulls out of the playoffs last year on its way to winning the title.
“We’ve never not shown them any respect, but we came here and won in their stadium,” Villalba said. “Win or lose, we shot them respect. Today, we lost but they seemed upset.”
De Boer said he didn’t see what happened to start the scrum, but thinks the rivalry is good for both teams.
“It was fun to watch,” de Boer said. “They will do everything to win against each other, of course. But there must be respect from both sides.”
De Boer went with a strong starting lineup, replacing left fullback Brek Shea with Michael Parkhurst and putting midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel, and centerback Miles Robinson back in the starting lineup.
As has been in the case in the team’s past games at Red Bull Arena, a stadium in which it has yet to win in three previous games, Atlanta United was almost overrun in the first minutes.
First, an under-pressure Leandro Gonzalez Pirez underhit a backpass to Brad Guzan that forced him to come out of the penalty box to boot away the ball in the first minute.
Two minutes later, centerback Amro Tarek hit the post with a shot from the center of the penalty box.
Red Bulls kept pushing players up field in pursuit of the opening goal, which led to Atlanta United counterattacks. But as has been the case most of the season, the key final pass was missing for the Five Stripes. Passes were underhit, overhit, dribbles lost or one-on-ones unsuccessfully attempted.
Atlanta United hit the right pass in the 29th minute to Josef Martinez, who got behind Red Bulls’ centerbacks Parker and Tarek. Martinez rounded both and was trying to create a shooting angle against Luis Robles when Tarek, who was laying on the ground, swung out a foot and knocked away the ball.
Martinez kept attacking and affected the game in the 35th minute. With Martinez again behind the defense, Parker fouled him to deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Referee Robert Sibiga gave Parker a red card, giving Atlanta United a man advantage.
“We took our foot of the gas a little bit and weren’t sharp in the final third,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.
The Red Bulls took advantage of Atlanta United with a goal in the 65th minute by Barlow, who drifted away from Robinson and Franco Escobar to get to the back post and head a cross from Daniel Royer back across the goal and into the corner. It was the first goal allowed by Atlanta United since Dallas scored in the 84th minute of its, 2-1, win April 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“You have the run that we did, at some point it’s going to come to an end,” Guzan said. “That happened today. It’s not the end of the world. We now have to make sure we get back to Atlanta, rest up physically and mentally...and make sure that when we step on the field Friday night we are 100 percent at our best.”
De Boer said there was a lack of communication between Robinson and Escobar on who was marking Barlow, who hit the ball with the side of his head. Guzan said it was a sloppy goal to concede. De Boer agreed.
“There was only one man to mark,” de Boer said. “It has to be solved. They were one time in front of the goal and they scored. They always get one chance in the game. It’s always like that. He made a great goal. If he does it like 100 times, 99 times it won’t happen again. But we have to be more secure in that moment and don’t give them the chance.”
Because of the glut of games, de Boer said he has given the players off until Wednesday.
“I’m proud of the team,” de Boer said. “They fought to the last second. If there was a time to get three points out of here, it was today.”
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