Atlanta United looking for better defense and road play

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta United wants its first shutout, and it wants to improve its road performance.

It will get another chance at the first and its first chance this season at the second when it plays at Charlotte on Saturday.

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The team (1-0-1) has given up two goals in its first two games, both on counterattacks, but feels like it is executing fairly well with room for improvement.

“I mean, we have to understand that we love clean sheets,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said.

Opponents’ expected goals against Atlanta United (1.4) rank among the lowest in the league, as are chances created (11) against them. Those might be lower if the team had performed slightly better in the key moments that led to goals.

Both goals conceded came down the right side. The second happened because of a combination of errors involving spacing between Andrew Gutman and JuanJo Purata and a lack of communication between Brooks Lennon and Franco Ibarra.

Toronto’s goal happened when Atlanta United’s press was broken, and Michael Bradley was given time and space to find Federico Bernandeschi in space on the wing.

“We’ve made many, many strides in many different things, how high we are this time, how compact we are in the low block, in the middle block, how difficult is to pass the backline in certain moments, but it’s still defending the ball,” Pineda said. “That’s where, you know, we need to do a little bit better.”

Gutman said the team worked on a drill Thursday to try to help them from overextending their legs. On San Jose’s first goal, the cross went through Gutman’s legs, actually glancing off his shin before being headed in by Jeremy Ebobissie. Bernardeschi’s shot also went through Gutman’s legs.

“I think this year, especially, we just need to be better,” Gutman said. “You know, not conceding the amount of goals we did as last year, and it feels really nice to get a shutout. So we definitely want to go into Charlotte, try to get a shutout and get on a roll from there.”

Pineda said championship teams have good defenses. He believes Atlanta United, with those improvements in communication and spacing, can become a better defense.

If the defense can pitch a shutout, it would go a long way toward a good start for the team on the road. Atlanta United took only 11 of a possible 51 points away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium last season. That was among the reasons the team failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

One of last year’s losses came at Charlotte, which scored the only and winning goal on an “Olympico” directly from a corner kick. That’s one of the rarest goals in soccer.

Because the team dropped two points at home against Toronto, getting a positive result against Charlotte has more importance.

“It’s confidence,” fullback Brooks Lennon said. “I think we need to start mentally preparing for these away games, knowing that we don’t need to sit back and wait for the opponent to come to us. We can take the game to them, especially on the road and put them under a little bit of pressure, which I thought we were hesitant to do last year.”

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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 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

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