Atlanta United’s defense good, offense struggling as MLS plays resumes

Atlanta United forward Luke Brennan dribbles the ball during the U.S. Open Cup match against the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point Soccer Stadium in Mount Pleasant, SC on Tuesday May 21, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Luke Brennan dribbles the ball during the U.S. Open Cup match against the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point Soccer Stadium in Mount Pleasant, SC on Tuesday May 21, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said he wants the team to keep its fighting mentality after it defeated Charleston Battery 5-4 in penalty kicks to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday at Patriots Point.

Because of schedule congestion — they played at Nashville on May 18 and will host LAFC on Saturday — and the need to keep more first-team players fresh, Pineda chose a roster that included five Homegrown signees, each of which played against Charleston, and another from Atlanta United 2. Standouts from that group included centerback Efrain Morales and winger Luke Brennan.

It wasn’t a smooth performance, but the team was able to limit the chances for Charleston, the best team in USL this season, while it created several of its own. Josh Cohen sealed the victory by stopping Charleston’s last two penalty kicks after the match ended 0-0.

“It doesn’t matter big stars, everyone is important, anyone can do the job if they put in their 100%,” Pineda said. “I think it’s going to be a good recovery. I think everyone will be mentally very positive.”

Cohen said he told the backline, which was composed of Morales, Matt Edwards from Atlanta United 2, Luis Abram and Ronald Hernandez to maintain communication throughout the match and to trust themselves. It produced Atlanta United’s fifth shutout in all competitions this season.

“It’s gotten you to this level and to this point, and listen to the guys around you and learn from them because they might see something different,” he said.

Cohen’s heroics, which included four saves in regulation and extra time, won’t move him into the starting lineup for the first team, Pineda said. Pineda said that’s not because Cohen doesn’t deserve the opportunity, but because Brad Guzan, the starter, is playing well. Cohen has shutouts in his past four starts for Atlanta United in the U.S. Open Cup and for Atlanta United 2.

“I’m very blessed with three goalkeepers that I really, really trust in any moment,” Pineda said.

While the defense was a positive, Atlanta United’s offense continues to struggle. Setting aside an own goal scored by D.C. United, the team has scored one goal in its past 374 minutes. Jamal Thiare had several chances against Charleston but put only one on goal. Atlanta United put two shots on goal against the Battery.

Pineda said the offense’s lack of production is a bit worrying, but he was more pleased that the team secured a positive result.

“A victory is a victory; it’s a cup (match),” he said. “I don’t care how we got the result. That’s why I praise the mentality of the kids, especially the kids, because the guys that have played many games, probably they know better, but we barely had preparation for this game.”

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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 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

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.