Atlanta United tired of giving up ‘soft’ goals

Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo #10 controls the ball during the first half of the match against Chicago Fire FC at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL on Saturday May 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo #10 controls the ball during the first half of the match against Chicago Fire FC at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL on Saturday May 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

CHICAGO — Atlanta United’s inability to close games cost it two more points in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Chicago at Soldier Field.

Chicago’s Georgios Koutsias tied the match in the 89th minute, in part because no Atlanta United player moved out to pressure Miguel Navarro on the left wing.

The goal was the seventh scored in the 89th minute or later against Atlanta United (6-4-4) in matches across all competition this season. The goals have cost Atlanta United four points and a spot in the U.S. Open Cup.

Perhaps most galling, Atlanta United already had given up two goals in the game despite having a man advantage from the 26th minute, when Federico Navarro received a second yellow card and was ejected, until the 71st minute when Luiz Araujo also received two yellows, which evened the sides at 10 players each.

“Again, it seems too easy,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “It feels like we have to really create good plays, good actions, to get goals, but it feels like we are just leaking soft goals, so we need to solidify that.”

The goals allowed were “soft,” in soccer parlance. On the important tying goal, Navarro had time to pick out a cross from the left wing to the back post. Neither Ronald Hernandez nor Machop Chol moved out to pressure him. The cross was met by Maren Haile-Selassie, who beat Giorgos Giakoumakis to the back post.

The lack of pressure also contributed to Chicago’s second goal in the 49th minute when Xherdan Shaqiri, arguably one of two players (the other being Thiago Almada) who should not be given time to pick a pass, was given that time. It resulted in a goal by Haile-Selaisse with an assist from Kacper Przybylko.

“It came from a throw-in, and we’re not ready for that throw-in,” Pineda said, which also was a way that Chicago generated attacks in the teams’ first meeting. “And then it’s so easy. It’s so simple. A throw-in, a long switch, received with the chest inside the box, no pressure at all and then no closing down the opponent, no blocking shots which is something that we message very often. So, frustrated with that one.”

Fullback Andrew Gutman, who served as team captain for the first time, said the team simply needs to push through whatever is preventing it from closing games. The team has given up six goals in the final 15 matches of this season.

“It’s like sink or swim,” he said. “If we don’t develop it, then it’s going to turn into something like last year. But like I said, there are guys in the locker room who realize what’s going on, that have the willingness and desire and awareness to change, and I think we will change.”

On Friday, when the topic of discussion was maintaining urgency, Pineda said that if the players didn’t show that Saturday, whomever didn’t show that may lose his starting job. The question was altered slightly after Saturday’s game. This time, Pineda was asked if the players who aren’t doing things like pressuring dribblers may lose their starting spots. He said to make changes to the back line would feel punitive.

“As a team, from top to bottom, we always talk about that, that togetherness,” he said. “We’re a team; we need to band together. So it’s, work more in those moments and defend inside the box, defend, block crosses, block shots, all those little things that we know we can do better.”

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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 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7 p.m., FS1

June 7 or Sept. 13 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