Atlanta United will hope for better road fortune, especially on defense, this weekend in Central Florida.
Since winning its first road match in Charlotte, Atlanta United is 0-3-3 away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which includes a 3-3 draw Saturday in Chicago.
Atlanta United faces Orlando City (5-4-4) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Five Stripes are fourth in the Eastern Conference with 22 points, three more than Orlando City.
The road woes aren’t anything new. Atlanta United has only two victories over its past 25 road matches across all competition. One of those two road wins, however, came in Orlando in September (1-0). Atlanta United is 8-3-6 against Orlando City all-time, including a 2-2-2 record at Exploria Stadium.
“It’s a tough league to play on the road,” defender Miles Robinson said. “I think there are plenty of teams that have struggled on the road as well. But it’s one of those things. In MLS, it’s very tough to win on the road. (Atlanta United has accrued six points from road games.) But the more points we can get on the road, the better we’ll be throughout the season.”
The Five Stripes have left points on the table, though, largely because of issues on defense. Atlanta United has surrendered seven goals in the 89th minute or later, costing it four points and a spot in the U.S. Open Cup. The latest miscue came in Chicago when Atlanta United allowed Georgios Koutsias’ equalizer in the 89th minute.
That’s the theme of the season thus far. Atlanta United leads MLS with 28 goals scored, yet it has allowed the second most goals (24).
“Over the course of the season, we’ve given up a lot of soft goals,” Robinson said. “Goals off of mistakes, a lack of focus, even just some lucky chances. But I think we’re close to being the team we can be. It’s just a matter of keeping consistency in our training and the team we put out (on a game day). If we do that, I think we have a bright future.”
Manager Gonzalo Pineda: “We’re trying to correct it. It’s pretty obvious. The other side of it is we’re the best team in scoring goals. So there’s two sides of the story … The main part is how we can be protective in transition moments when we’re attacking. That’s the balance we’re trying to get. To focus on defending more and attacking less is not the case.
“We want to continue with attacking, but (find balance). That depends on counter measurements, actively defending, the communication, awareness of who’s the most important player for them in transition. Should we be tighter on him? Should I drop a couple yards and wait for the long ball? Stuff like that, more awareness in that phase.”
Perhaps the team closes better this weekend. Orlando City was 0-2-2 in its past four matches before defeating Miami 3-1 on May 21. It was the first time Orlando City had scored more than two goals in a match.
“It’s a hot game, humid atmosphere,” Robinson said. “But it’s a matter of us digging in and understanding what we came in to do, and that’s (get) three points.”
Giakoumakis still not full go
Asked if Giorgos Giakoumakis, the scoring sensation who’s totaled eight goals in only 527 minutes, was fit for 90 minutes, Pineda said: “I don’t think so, but we have to see how he responds to the last couple sessions. We want to be smart with how we use him and how we progress him into the full 90 minutes.”
Atlanta United has brought Giakoumakis along slowly as he recovers from a hamstring injury. His minutes have steadily increased, and Giakoumakis played 45 minutes against Chicago, scoring twice. Despite the limitations, he’s two goals behind LAFC’s Dennis Bouanga for the league lead, sitting in a five-way tie for second.
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