Atlanta United finds familiar ways to fall to Miami

Gallagher a bright spot for team that played without a DP for first time

The players were different — no Ezequiel Barco meant Atlanta United was without a Designated Player for the first time in franchise history — but the team found familiar ways to fall to Inter Miami 2-1 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Despite focusing on Miami’s counter attacks in training, Atlanta United gave up a goal within the game’s first two minutes on a quick turn.

Despite working on set pieces on Friday, Atlanta United switched off for a half-second and Miami got its winner on a sequence that started with a throw-in and ended with scorer Brek Shea unmarked at the back post.

That was just the first 11 minutes. It was a furious start with a familiar finish for the Five Stripes (3-7-2).

Atlanta United has lost three consecutive, each to expansion teams that are both ahead of it in the table, and has just one win in its past 10. It has fallen to 12th in the East, which is outside the playoff line. Its unfamiliar situation is this and depends upon your viewpoint: one point away from climbing back into the playoffs or just two points ahead of the worst team in the league.

“I think in the moments that mattered we weren’t good enough and unfortunately those moments came early in the game,” captain Jeff Larentowicz said. “Again, their counterattack, their speed on the break was something we spoke about all week and it still bit us on the first goal. The second goal they were just sharper than us and there is really no excuse on that one.”

Should it want, Atlanta United had a decent excuse for Saturday’s performance and result: the late scratch of Barco, who picked up a leg injury during training the day before the game. It’s the second time this season that has happened.

Successful teams in MLS are usually the ones who have effective Designated Players. Atlanta United’s success in its first three season was partially because of Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez and Barco.

With Josef Martinez out for the season, Pity Martinez sold to a club in Saudi Arabia and the next DP not yet announced, Barco is arguably the team’s best player. Despite missing two games, Barco remains tied for the team lead in goals with a meager two and leads in assists with a mere three.

Not having his spark and creativity made getting something from Saturday’s game slightly more difficult, according to interim manager Stephen Glass.

“It puts you in a battle against a team that has top players,” he said. “In terms of the work rate, I can’t fault the guys. There are certain situations that could have been prevented with a little bit more knowhow. That’s something you do get from the top guys. Balancing the playing field is about work rate and doing the things you can control well. Doing it every single time. It’s difficult when you don’t play with DP’s.”

Larentowicz wasn’t ready to chalk up Saturday’s performance to a lack of DPs.

"I don’t think anyone looks around and says ‘Hey, do we have all of our DPs on the field? Okay, let’s go,’ " he said. “That’s just not how it works. We kind of all just believe in ourselves. We believe in any player on our roster whether they are a college draftee on a league minimum to a DP.”

Jon Gallagher, who started in place of Barco, scored Atlanta United’s only goal with a left-footed strike in the fifth minute. It was the first goal from the 2018 draft pick from Notre Dame. Gallagher’s final stat line was similar to one of Barco’s: two shots, one goal, two chances created, five fouls suffered, one tackle.

“I know Glassy believes in me and I want to do really well for him just because of the connection we have,” Gallagher said. “He just told me to be myself. He knows I’m an attacking player, he knows I can score goals. He said, ‘just put yourself in opportunities where you are going to help the team.’”

With Gallagher on the left and Jake Mulraney on the right, Atlanta United had speed going forward that it hasn’t always had this season. Gallagher was a consistent threat running at players, even if his final ball wasn’t always on point. Mulraney put in two fine crosses that, on another day, could have resulted in goals.

But not this season.

This season, few things are working well for Atlanta United.

After Gallagaher’s goal, the team had one more good chance but Erick Torres' header from close-range was saved in the 69th minute. It was the team’s last shot, literally. It attempted no more during the next 21 minutes.

“Everyone is obviously disappointed,” Larentowicz said. “It’s something that we’re not used to. But we as a team have to rebound. You have to be humble when you’re winning and stand up when you’re losing and right now we’re in a tough stretch. We’ve lost a couple in a row. But the season is not going away. We have another game in a couple of days.”


Atlanta United coming games

Wednesday vs. Dallas, 7 p.m., Fox Sports South

Sept. 27 at Chicago, 7:30 pm., Fox Sports Southeast

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