COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Atlanta United’s hot start was considerably cooled in an uninspiring 6-1 loss to Columbus at Lower.com Field on Saturday.
It was worst loss in franchise history and the most goals allowed in franchise history.
“Today we were not up to the standard that we set for ourselves,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said.
Though both teams were missing several key players because of the international break, the Crew looked far more comfortable in handing Atlanta United (3-1-1) its first loss this season. They held the Five Stripes, tied as the highest-scoring team in MLS through the first four weeks, to zero shots through the first 51 minutes.
“It’s not an excuse at all,” Pineda said of the missing players. “We were just not good enough today. We were exposed in certain moments.”
The whole game felt very 2022 for Atlanta United. The first goal scored against it came on a deflection, reflecting the bad luck Atlanta United had last season in missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. It was followed by an injury, a consistent issue last season, to Andrew Gutman. Columbus added a goal on a set piece, which Atlanta United had great difficulty consistently defending last season.
Atlanta United’s lone goal was scored by Brooks Lennon in the 71st minute. It was its only shot on goal after scoring eight in the previous two games. The team created just one chance.
“Everything went wrong,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “Our application, our intensity, desire to compete. We lacked in all those areas. And you can’t do that in this league.”
Atlanta United was without seven players because they were called up by their national teams. That group included three starters, striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, attacking midfielder Thiago Almada, centerback Miles Robinson and several key reserves, including winger Derrick Etienne. Columbus was without four starters, three because of national call-ups. That group was composed of forward Lucas Zelarayan, goalkeeper Eloy Room and defender Milos Degenek. Cucho Hernandez missed the game because of injury.
Pineda’s starting 11 was composed of striker Miguel Berry, wingers Luiz Araujo and Caleb Wiley, midfielders Amar Sejdic, in Almada’s role, Franco Ibarra and Santiago Sosa, fullbacks Gutman and Lennon, centerbacks JuanJo Purata and Noah Cobb, making his first career start, and Guzan.
Atlanta United started slowly. When it had possession, it couldn’t string together passes. Defensively, it’s press looked like it was at 70% speed. Columbus easily passed through it.
“The midfield wasn’t as aggressive as I wanted,” Pineda said. “At times, their tactics were good.”
Pineda said at times Ibarra had no one to mark because Alexandru Matan was finding spaces in other areas. He created a team-high three of Columbus’ 11 chances.
Columbus took a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute on a header by Aidan Morris. A cross was deflected by a lunging Sosa. The ball looped high into the air, right to Morris just yards from goal.
Twice in the first 22 minutes Atlanta United created a turnover near midfield but the attacks were stopped because Berry waited too long to pass in the opponent’s defensive third of the field. The first resulted in an offside. The second resulted in a turnover.
Pineda didn’t mention those moments specifically, but he said he felt there were two times that Atlanta United could have affected the game. Pineda also said the movements the team worked on during training didn’t happen. Araujo was left isolated too many times. Wiley was forced to drop back too many times. Things just didn’t work.
“I don’t think we did what we wanted to do, I don’t think we played the way we need to play,” Berry said. “I think we’re a team who wants to be in the front foot with the ball and without the ball. And tonight, we were neither. And I think it showed and I mean, we’re a team that gets forward, gets crosses in and I can’t remember a cross coming into the box. So it’s just, it’s frustrating.”
Gutman left the game in the 43rd minute with an undisclosed injury to his left leg. He sat down on the field. The trainers came out and examined him. He stood up and walked to the bench. He didn’t try to test whatever was wrong with a light jog or short sprint. Pineda said he believes Gutman sustained a groin injury. Pineda replaced Gutman with Tyler Wolff, who moved to left wing with Wiley moving to fullback.
Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1
Columbus increased its lead to 2-0 in the 47th minute on a goal by Christian Ramirez. Jacen Russell-Rowe wasn’t closed down by Sosa on the left. Russell-Rowe’s cross eluded Cobb and found Ramirez, who shot it back across and into the goal.
Columbus added a third, this time on a corner kick to really add to the 2022 vibes, on a header by Philip Quinton in the 51st minute.
Guzan said that’s when he felt the team fell apart.
“Two quick goals at the beginning of the second half obviously hurt us,” he said. “But in that moment, you take the result, you realize you’re not good enough on the day and you move on. And what we did is we threw in the towel. And that, for me, is a disappointing thing.”
Ramirez completed his brace with a simple right-footed shot in the 64th minute to give the Crew a 4-0 lead.
It became 5-0 in the 68th minute on a goal by Russell-Rowe, who had time and space at the top of the 18-yard box to hit a right-footed shot into the lower left corner. The sixth was scored in the 91st minute.
Pineda said he doesn’t think his team came in overconfident because it was off to the best start in franchise history.
“I don’t think or I hope it’s not the case that we were a little bit arrogant or anything like that,” he said. “I hope it was a setback tonight and we will try to do better next week.”
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1
March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1
April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1
April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox
May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution