Atlanta United’s issues defending set pieces hurt team again

Atlanta United's Andrew Gutman controls the ball as CF Montreal's Alistair Johnston watches during the second half of an MLS soccer game Saturday in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: AP

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta United's Andrew Gutman controls the ball as CF Montreal's Alistair Johnston watches during the second half of an MLS soccer game Saturday in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: AP

Atlanta United’s problem defending set pieces dates to the preseason, and until it shows that it can stop opponents from scoring, it figures to keep getting played that way.

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Montreal was the latest to score against the Five Stripes on a set piece when Kamal Miller got in front of Franco Ibarra to head in a goal from close range in the fourth minute of Saturday’s 2-1 loss. The play was set up on a free kick about 16 yards up the field and outside the penalty box. The ball was sent toward the back post, where Miller had a running start for an easy header.

The team has given up five of its 13 goals on dead balls (non-penalty kicks) this season.

“It’s something we need to continue to work on and hammer out the problems and move in a positive direction,” goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said.

The goal Saturday followed an “Olimpico” scored by Charlotte in its 1-0 victory April 10 and a goal allowed after an Atlanta United corner kick in a 3-3 draw with Montreal on March 19.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda said Atlanta United doesn’t have the tallest team compared with others in MLS. He said the team tries to avoid giving away corner kicks partially for that reason. Atlanta United’s assistant coaches typically work on the set pieces.

“I feel at times every game we are allowing it (set pieces) to become dangerous,” Pineda said. “I think we need to review, check why we concede at times.”

There is a difference between height and desire, though. Montreal had three chances to score on one corner kick in the first half but failed to do so. After failing to win the first ball, Montreal players were the first to react to loose balls. They had another chance in the second half because they were the first to again win the corner and then the subsequent. It took a goal-line clearance by Andrew Gutman to keep Montreal from scoring.

Gutman said that can’t continue to happen.

“It’s not who’s more skillful or who’s a better player,” he said. “It’s just who wants it more, and for us it’s life or death inside the box. We have to get to a mentality where there’s no chance that you’re going to win the ball over me. There’s no chance that you’re going to push me and you’re going to get the first header on it. And I think that’s just kind of what we’re lacking right now.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 1:30 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs. Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas


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