Atlanta United recognizes offense can improve

After securing a positive result for a second consecutive game with a late goal in a 1-1 draw on Sunday at Seattle, Atlanta United manager Gabriel Heinze, goalkeeper Brad Guzan and, importantly, striker Josef Martinez said the team needs to improve its execution near the opponent’s goal.

The team, which leads MLS in possession, had the ball for 63% of the game against Seattle. However, it created just one more chance than Seattle (8 to 7), and the teams put the same number of shots on goal (2). Before Sunday’s game, Atlanta United led the league in possession (60.28%) but was ninth from the bottom in Expected Goals. (1.06). The team finished with 1.1 Expected Goals against Seattle.

“If we don’t create chances, we don’t have possibility to win a game,” said Martinez, whose penalty kick in the 86th minute was the team’s second shot on goal. “You can have the ball all game. You can run more than the other team, but if you don’t create chances, you don’t win. In soccer, you win with goals, not with possession. But we are happy. It’s not easy to get a point away against another amazing team. So, we have to keep working and see what happens.”

Credit: Ted S. Warren

Credit: Ted S. Warren

Sunday’s goal was similar to last week’s game-winner against Montreal, which also came on the team’s second shot on goal. Both came from line-splitting passes and an offensive player forcing a defender to make a decision.

Against Seattle, centerback Miles Robinson hit a lofted pass over its midfield and backline for Brooks Lennon to run onto. As Lennon reached the ball near the end line, Seattle’s Brad Smith was forced to attempt a tackle. He was late. Penalty.

Atlanta United doesn’t attempt a lot of line-splitting passes. The team was second-to-last this season in that category before Sunday, according to MLS journalist Joseph Lowery.

“I don’t think, at times, we ask the question of the opposition’s backline to turn and face their own goal and defend,” Guzan said. “And when you do that, you create good things. Brooks (Lennon) makes a great run, gets on the end of it, and the guy catches him.”

Against Montreal, Santiago Sosa hit a 20-yard pass to George Bello, who beat his defender and passed it to Jake Mulraney, who created enough space by dribbling to hit a cross into the center of the penalty box where Marcelino Moreno sprinted to head it for the winning goal in the 94th minute.

Both plays were different to how the offense has worked for most of the season. It’s been methodical, predictable and mostly ineffective. The team has scored 10 goals in 10 games across all competitions and has scored more than one goal in just one game. It has seven goals in six league games.

But Heinze said he feels the offense is improving.

Credit: Ted S. Warren

Credit: Ted S. Warren

“What I’m trying to do with my players is to try and teach them a certain way,” he said. “There will be some games where we have more chances. There will be games when we don’t have as many chances.”

The good news for Atlanta United is despite not creating a lot of chances from its abundance of possession, it has done enough to earn four important points the past two weeks. It will host Nashville on Saturday before the FIFA-mandated International break. The team won’t play again until it hosts Philadelphia on June 20. It will have time to work on its execution in the final third.

“It’s not a habit to score in the last minute,” Heinze said. “I believe it’s more about heart and belief. Don’t give up. The game will be over after 93 minutes and every ball is like the last ball. This is a sport unlike other sports when you have to give the maximum that you have every minute.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN

June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE

June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE