NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Atlanta United’s worrisome form continued with a 3-1 loss to Nashville at GEODIS Park on Saturday.
The defeat came a game after the team was played off the pitch by USL side Memphis in a 2-1 loss in the U.S. Open Cup and two games after a sloppy 2-1 win against Chicago at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Against Nashville, Atlanta United’s offense, despite starting Designated Players Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo, again struggled to create chances and subsequently put shots on goal against one of the better defenses in MLS. Almada scored the team’s goal on a penalty kick. It was his fifth goal this season. Atlanta United put only one shot on goal the rest of the match. It took 17 shots and created 12 chances. Nashville finished with 11 shots, four on goal.
“I think the team tried, I think. For certain moments, we were good in our distribution and how we break the midfield,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “It’s just the final pass, the final, extra touch in the primary assist zones. Actually, I felt that we arrived quite often in the primary zones, but then the delivery or the movement inside the box wasn’t quite there. So we’re lacking a little bit of that.”
Atlanta United’s defense was broken first by a set piece in the first half, a swift counterattack early in the second half and another in the final minutes when it was chasing a result.
“Then the second half, I thought that we started in a very strong way,” Pineda said. “But then they scored a couple of goals in transition. It was just an uphill challenge.”
The defeat dropped Atlanta United to 5-2-3, with next week’s game at Miami on tap. After winning its first road game this season at Charlotte, the team has taken two points from its past four games away from home.
Pineda gave Machop Chol a start at striker in place of the injured Giorgos Giakoumakis. It was Chol’s first start at striker in a professional game. Araujo and Caleb Wiley were on the wings. Almada, Matheus Rossetto and Santiago Sosa composed the midfield. Brooks Lennon, making his 100th appearance for the club, and Andrew Gutman were the fullbacks, Miles Robinson and JuaJo Purata the centerbacks and Clement Diop started in goal for the second consecutive game.
Nashville, which already had hit several dangerous free kicks that put Atlanta United’s defenders under pressure, finally got its reward with a corner kick in the 36th minute. Hany Mukhtar hit the corner to the near post, where Walker Zimmerman hit the ball with the top of his head across the goal to Fafa Picault, who needed only to tap it in. Chol tried to defend Zimmerman on the play but was “picked,” which gave Zimmerman space. Chol said he should have done better. Pineda said the play run by Nashville was one that Atlanta United had reviewed.
“There are a couple things that we can do better because we’ve actually trained that, but I mean, it happens and that was the way we started to lose the control of the game,” Pineda said.
It was Nashville’s third corner and first shot on goal. It was the second set-piece goal, and second from a corner, allowed by Atlanta United this season.
“I thought in the first half, we weren’t really under that much pressure,” Lennon said. “They weren’t creating that many goal-scoring opportunities against us. I thought the backline did very well in the first half. So, to concede on a set piece is frustrating.
“But it’s game No. 10. We’ve got a lot more left in the season, and we got to keep our keep our heads up, keep moving forward, and work as hard as possible to get a result next Saturday.”
Conceding the first goal didn’t bode well for Atlanta United because it was 2-35-9 in franchise history in road games when the opponent scored the opener.
After starting the match well, Atlanta United struggled in the final 15 minutes of the half. The team created only three scoring chances in the first half. It put only one of its seven shots on goal.
Nashville 3, Atlanta United 1 (match statistics)
Nashville increased its lead to 2-0 in the 56th minute on a goal by Teal Bunbury, who put in a rebound off blocked shot by Mukhtar. Bunbury was unmarked in the middle of the penalty box because Mukhtar drew two defenders, Purata and Gutman. Wiley was left to try to cover two Nashville players. The play started with a pass from Nashville’s Alex Muyl over the top of Atlanta United’s defense into space for Mukhtar to run onto.
Pineda subbed on Derrick Etienne and Miguel Berry for Chol and Araujo in the 59th minute.
Atlanta United received a penalty kick in the 71st minute following a Video Assisted Review by referee Joe Dickerson. The review was of a foul by Dax McCarty on Rossetto. Almada converted the penalty kick, his first for Atlanta United.
Nashville finished the game with a goal by Jacob Shaffelburg, who made a smart run through Atlanta United’s defense to catch up to pass from Mukhtar. It was the fifth goal scored against Atlanta United in the 90th minute or later in the past four matches.
“I think if we just button up some of the key parts of the game, we’re going to come to these places and get results,” Lennon said. “But we didn’t come here and shy away, at all.”
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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 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0
April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1
April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2
April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1
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