Atlanta United winless streak hits seven with loss at Cincinnati

Atlanta United's Bartosz Slisz looks to pass during the first half of Wednesday's MLS match at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Credit: Atlanta United

Credit: Atlanta United

Atlanta United's Bartosz Slisz looks to pass during the first half of Wednesday's MLS match at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Atlanta United’s winless stretch in MLS reached seven with a 1-0 loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday. It is the second-longest winless streak in franchise history.

Thiago Almada was subbed off with a calf injury, leaving the team without its best playmaker and arguably top offensive threat for the final 75 minutes. Giorgos Giakoumakis may have also suffered a muscle injury as well as a concussion late in the match as the team’s lows continue to deepen.

As a result, Atlanta United took just six shots, putting only one on goal, through the first 80 minutes. It finished with eight shots, one on goal, and an expected goals total of 0.5. Cincinnati’s was 1.6 from 13 shots, five on goal.

“It was a performance, like, we can build something out of that performance,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said.

Except ...

Cincinnati’s goal was the result of the errors that Atlanta United can’t seem to stop making and may have been even more galling because it was very similar to one the team gave up a few days ago in a loss to D.C. United.

With the loss, Atlanta United (3-6-3) has taken just two points, and scored just one goal, in its first five road matches. It will play at Nashville on Saturday.

His team playing its fourth match in a stretch of nine in 30 days, Pineda made a few changes to the starting lineup. Giakoumakis started at striker with Almada shifted from the middle to left wing and Saba Lobjanidze on the right. Dax McCarty, Jay Fortune and Bartosz Slisz were tapped in the midfield, Noah Cobb and Luis Abram as the centerbacks, Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley as the fullbacks, and Brad Guzan in goal. It was McCarty’s third start and Fortune’s second this season.

Cincinnati striker Kevin Kelsy was given his first start, which was important because like Christian Benteke, who scored three goals against Atlanta United last week, he offered a bigger target for the hosts.

Just as did Benteke did, Kelsy punished Atlanta United’s lack of attentiveness when he was left open at the back post to power in a header in the eighth minute to give Cincinnati a 1-0 lead.

Cincinnati’s scoring sequence started when centerback Miles Robinson took the ball away from Almada, who was given the ball in a bad spot in Atlanta United’s defensive third, and dribbled into the 18-yard box. Robinson’s shot was blocked. Luciano Acosta reached the deflection just before it crossed the end line. Put under no pressure, he hit a cross to Kelsy. The goal was the result of all of Atlanta United’s issues for several seasons: a turnover in a dangerous spot, losing focus when thinking the ball was out, and not marking well.

“That’s exactly what happened,” Pineda said.

McCarty said it was unacceptable how the team dealt with that situation.

“It’s incredible to me that we can stop playing when the ball is not out of bounds,” he said. “And that we don’t have the urgency to make sure that we go and press the ball. And that’s a collective effort. That’s a collective mindset. That’s a collective mentality.”

Things got even worse for Atlanta United.

Almada sat down on the turf in the 15th minute and was replaced by Xande Silva.

Kelsy got open again on a corner kick in the 30th minute but the ball bounced off his hand before he scored, so the goal was waived off by referee Ted Unkel.

Pineda subbed on Stian Gregersen and Jamal Thiare for Lobjanidze and Fortune in the 62nd minute. Thiare’s inclusion resulted in the team using two strikers to compete with Cincinnati’s three centerbacks. Atlanta United has put in eight crosses to that point in the match. It also meant Atlanta United had three centerbacks.

It’s a formation that Pineda said the team may use again.

Kelsy was replaced by Sergio Santos in the 64th minute. Tristan Muyumba and Edwin Mosquera came on for Silva and McCarty in the 74th minute.

Giakoumakis appeared to suffer a minor injury around the 75th minute but couldn’t be subbed off because the team had already used its allotment of five. He was able to jog but didn’t try sprinting. His and Robinson’s heads collided during an aerial dual in the 86th minute, resulting in trainers coming out to examine both. Because Giakoumakis may have sustained a concussion, Atlanta United was permitted to sub Daniel Rios in his place in the 89th minute.

Still, it could generate nothing that truly tested Cincinnati.

“I think when you look at the game at all, as a whole, there’s good things we did, both the attacking side, defensively,” Guzan said. “But again, it comes down one play, we switch off. And we get no pressure to the ball. These games, they’re fine margins, right? You can’t tell me that they outplayed us. They were clearly the better team. That’s what MLS is. That’s what these games are. You have to look at the game as a whole. It’s on us as players. We need to figure this out.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.