Atlanta United loses, fails to make MLS playoffs

Atlanta United defender Alan Franco #6 dribbles during the first half of the match against New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, United States on Saturday October 1, 2022. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender Alan Franco #6 dribbles during the first half of the match against New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, United States on Saturday October 1, 2022. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Needing a win to keep alive its slim chances of making the MLS playoffs, Atlanta United was beaten 2-1 by New England on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

It was an uninspiring effort by the Five Stripes (10-13-10), who failed to make the postseason for the second time in the past three seasons despite having the league’s highest payroll this season. The Revolution already had been eliminated from playoff consideration but still outplayed the visitors on a cold, wet day.

As has been the case in many of the 32 previous games, the team allowed two goals as a result of poor decisions, and could count itself lucky not to lose by more because New England twice hit the post with shots. On offense, Atlanta United couldn’t figure out how to unlock a Revs defense that allowed six goals in its previous three games until Josef Martinez hit a thundering volley in the 81st minute. The Five Stripes fell to 2-37-9 when the opponent scored first in road games.

“We tried and I’m proud of the effort of the players because they they tried to come back,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And I think they did to get 1-1. After that in transition, we conceded a goal and that almost killed the momentum.”

Because of Miami’s victory against Toronto on Friday, Atlanta United’s players knew their only hope of making the playoffs was to win Saturday, Brooks Lennon said that didn’t add to the pressure.

“That had nothing to do with with our focus on today,” he said. “We knew that we had to come out and put a performance on the pitch no matter what.”

Pineda made one change to the lineup he’s selected for the past few games, choosing Ronaldo Cisneros at striker instead of Dom Dwyer, who sustained a minor injury Thursday. The rest of the lineup consisted of Thiago Almada, Luiza Araujo, Amar Sejdic, Santiago Sosa, Andrew Gutman, Brooks Lennon, JuanJo Purata, Alan Franco and Raul Gudino, guilty of the poor decision on New England’s first score, in goal.

Atlanta United was fortunate in the 12th minute when a turnover by Almada in his team’s half resulted in a break for the Revs. They couldn’t take advantage because Carles Gil’s shot bounced off the left upright and away.

The Revs hit the right upright a few minutes later from a header by Brandon Bye off a corner kick.

Atlanta United’s best opening chance came in the 20th minute when Gutman fired a cross that Lennon headed into the stands from a few yards away.

The Revs again came close to breaking the tie in the 31st minute when Gutman blocked a shot after Nacho Gil dribbled through Atlanta United’s defense and rounded Gudino before laying off a pass to Giacomo Vrioni, who took the shot. But the Revs earned a penalty kick a few seconds later when referee Armando Villareal judged that Gudino tackled Vrioni in the box as both were trying to position themselves to be the first to a looping deflection. Vrioni converted the penalty kick to give the Revs a 1-0 lead. Pineda described the penalty as “stupid” during a halftime TV broadcast.

Atlanta United worked on improving its finishing during the recent FIFA break, but that work didn’t show itself in the first half. The team created seven chances, but put only one of its nine shots on goal, compared with New England’s two from seven.

“I think that we get in these positions, and we just slow down, and then the teams reset, and then they got seven guys behind the ball, and then it’s pretty hard, so I don’t think it’s anything bad that happened. I think it’s just something that maybe we were a little too slow, a little too flat, especially in the first 20-25 minutes,” Gutman said.

Pineda made three changes in the 55th minute in an attempt to keep the team’s season alive. Martinez came in for Cisneros, Matheus Rossetto came in for Sejdic and Mosquera came in for Hernandez, which resulted in Lennon moving from right wing to right fullback, and Araujo moving from left wing to right wing.

Still, the offense didn’t couldn’t break through against a compact Revs defense. The team put only two of its 12 shots on goal through 70 minutes. One was a slow roller by Almada. The other was a low, hard shot by Gutman.

Pineda made two more changes in the 76th minute, brining on Marcelino Moreno for Sosa and Caleb Wiley for Araujo.

A few minutes later Atlanta United finally broke through. Martinez’s goal, his team-leading ninth, was assisted by Lennon, his seventh. Lennon’s cross came in from the right to the back post, where Martinez, turned his back to the goal and hit a right-footed shot back over his shoulder and into the upper left corner.

But Atlanta United’s defense couldn’t hold out. Gustavo Bou broke the deadlock in the 87th minute when he was left open on the left from eight yards away.

“This is a club that should be making the playoffs every single year, no matter what the circumstances are,” Lennon said. “I know, we’ve had a lot of injuries this year. And, you know, things not go our way. But yeah, just everyone’s very disappointed. And I think it’s unacceptable for Atlanta United not to make playoffs.”

Atlanta United will play a meaningless finale against NYCFC on Oct. 9 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will face an interesting offseason. A new team president will be hired and likely will be tasked with figuring out why this free-spending team has underperformed the past three seasons and if Vice President Carlos Bocanegra and Pineda are the right leaders.

“Today, we are doomed by not making playoffs because we felt we we competed with good chances to take three points, and we didn’t,” Pineda said. “So yeah, that’s what I can tell about today.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

August 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

August 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

August 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

August 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

August 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

August 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

Sept. 14 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 0

Sept 17 Atlanta United 0 Philadelphia 0

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas