Atlanta United hoping, again, to get off to a better start

Inter Miami midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro (10) controls the ball against Atlanta United midfielder Jake Mulraney (23) during the second half of an MLS soccer match on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Inter Miami midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro (10) controls the ball against Atlanta United midfielder Jake Mulraney (23) during the second half of an MLS soccer match on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

With the numerous shocks of the season perhaps finally subsiding, Atlanta United has a chance Wednesday at Inter Miami to show that it is settled, focused and capable of playing from the start without the motivation of chasing a result.

The most recent tremor in a season of waves was the completion Monday of the sale of Pity Martinez, who was one of the team’s three Designated Players. The shocks started with the season-ending injury of another, Josef Martinez, in the season’s first game, continued with COVID-19 and all it has wrought, a change in managers from Frank de Boer to Stephen Glass, and then continued with the first reports of Pity Martinez’s sale last week.

Put the factors together, and Atlanta United hasn’t looked like itself since even before the MLS tournament in Orlando. It has led in one of its past eight games across all competitions. It has scored one goal in the first half of those games. That game produced its only win, 2-0 against Nashville. Its record is 3-4-2, and it is in eighth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.

Getting off to better starts has been a point of focus for Glass since taking over in late July. Jake Mulraney said he is perplexed as to why it has yet to happen.

“If you look at the squad and the players, from seeing the players day in and day out, no reason we shouldn’t be grabbing the game by scruff,” the former Hearts player said. “The quality is crazy. People probably don’t think that because of the result. From my experience, easily the strongest team I’ve been on. Full of quality.”

But the team started to come to life in the second half of its recent game in Orlando. Trailing 1-0 at the half, the team put together what could be considered its best half in league play this season. It got its reward when Adam Jahn headed in Mulraney’s cross to earn a 1-1 draw.

“We moved the ball,” Glass said. “We played like the game is on the line. We need to start like that. Show a real determination that the other club doesn’t score first and then we get into the game.”

Miami also is a team searching for better starts. It is in last place in the 14-team East. It has scored only six goals, tied for second-worst in the league, but only two less than Atlanta United’s total. Miami took the game to Atlanta United with a physical pressing style in last week’s 0-0 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes, as has been the case, responded well on defense but created few opportunities going forward.

“I think we also have to be confident and believe in our ability when we’re in the final third (of the field),” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after that game. “A little more composure with the final ball. If that’s the case, then I think those chances and goals will come.”

Atlanta United coming games

Wednesday at Miami, 8 p.m. (Fox Sports South)

Saturday at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South)

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