Atlanta United must work its way out of this funk

ajc.com

Credit: MLS

Credit: MLS

4-2 loss to Nashville described as one of team’s worst performances

Atlanta United’s Season of Lows continued with Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Nashville, a game in which even something as simple as completing a throw-in proved maddeningly difficult and was quickly punished.

The MLS team gave up three goals in the first half, including one that started when a throw-in was gifted to Nashville. The other two started with turnovers in its third of the field.

It was, as interim manager Stephen Glass said, one of the club’s worst performances.

“I think the players know the standards required and they know there is no excuse for the performance level tonight,” he said. “We win and lose as a group, obviously. I think there’s a lot of people that know they didn’t come up to the required standard to play for the club tonight.”

Before Saturday, a bright spot during the previous eight games was the developing partnership between centerbacks Miles Robinson and Fernando Meza, and then Robinson and Anton Walkes.

Against Nashville, the duo were taken apart by Nashville, which looked quicker and more confident. Walkes was beaten to the back post by Dom Badji on the first goal, scored within the first minute. Neither player moved quickly enough to defend the second goal, scored by Hany Mukhtar. The third goal was a collective mistake with no one picking up the late running Dax McCarty, which has been another issue for the team this season. On the fourth, Walkes couldn’t catch Abu Danladi on a simple ball over the top. To be fair to Walkes, none of Atlanta United’s players moved to pressure McCarty on the pass.

“We basically gave them goals; our turnovers, our mistakes,” said George Bello, who scored the team’s second goal. “I feel like it is a focus thing, a mentality thing. Getting into the game from the first minute. We were on the back foot from the first couple of minutes. We shouldn’t feel bad for ourselves when that happens. We need to step up instead of going down. I think it is just the mental part of it and being locked in from the first second, from the first whistle. I think that is what we need moving forward.”

But it was about more than just Robinson and Walkes, who were playing their fifth consecutive game together in the past two weeks.

The midfield failed to move the ball quickly, unless it was backward. The team created just eight chances despite falling behind 1-0 in less than a minute. Adam Jahn rarely received any service from crosses into the penalty box.

The team did score in the first half on a Jeff Larentowicz header but it was the result of a free kick. It created nothing memorable from open play.

The ray of hope is that despite winning just one of its past nine games, Atlanta United is in 10th, the final playoff spot, with 12 games remaining.

Larentowicz said that it is time for the team to go to work. He said that’s the only way it can fight through its current malaise.

“If you don’t, it gets worse,” he said. “It compounds. Each game gets worse. You don’t want to come into training. It’s also something that this club has never done and I don’t see us doing it this year. We have to work our way out of it. We have plenty of talent, plenty of ability on the field but we can’t allow ourselves to get to that place.”

Glass said chasing that playoff spot is the goal.

“We know we have to improve, but if we can improve, if you can get yourself in a decent spot later, you can build and you can continue to grow,” he said. “So that is obviously the aim. That’s the work rate that will be going in. That’s the work rate that we’ll be demanding. So hopefully the players are capable of doing it. I think they are. We believe in them.”

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Atlanta United coming games

Sept. 19 Miami, 7 p.m., Fox Sports Southeast

Sept. 23 Dallas, 7 p.m., Fox Sports South

Sept. 27 at Chicago, 7:30 pm., Fox Sports Southeast

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