Atlanta United’s loss in U.S. Open Cup sums up season so far

Atlanta United defender Ronald Hernandez dribbles the ball during the U.S. Open Cup match against Nashville SC on Wednesday at GEODIS Park in Nashville. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta United defender Ronald Hernandez dribbles the ball during the U.S. Open Cup match against Nashville SC on Wednesday at GEODIS Park in Nashville. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

NASHVILLE — Atlanta United’s 3-2 loss to Nashville in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday was an example of the team’s season so far.

It played well in one half.

It switched off mentally for a few seconds in the second half.

It dropped a result and is now eliminated from the tournament, taking away one path to return to the Champions League.

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“Those little pieces of final concentration make the difference,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “I think we have a very young group and we need to learn from these types of stages where we didn’t succeed this time, but maybe if we face something similar in the future and this experience will help us.”

The team’s performance in the first half was similar to its first half in last week’s 4-1 win against Chicago. It had a majority of possession and was rewarded with goals by Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo to take a 2-0 lead.

Things changed quickly, though. Alan Franco fouled Ake Loba in the penalty box a few minutes into the start of the second half. Hany Mukhtar converted the penalty kick in the 50th minute.

Atlanta United looked rattled.

“I felt again that in the first half we did a good job, and the idea was to start the second half the same,” Pineda said. “Be on the front foot, but then the penalty comes early in the second half and that mentally affected my players. We couldn’t find that momentum to come back to that kind of football, and when we did we lost the ball right away.”

Pineda said his players stopped making off-the-ball runs in the second half, which made it easier for Nashville to defend.

There were two more moments that were part of unfortunate trends this season.

Andrew Gutman had to be subbed off after suffering an injury to his right shoulder. Pineda said he didn’t yet know the injury Wednesday night because tests were needed. Atlanta United has already lost three starters – Ozzie Alonso, Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson – to season-ending injuries.

When Robinson suffered his Achilles rupture in the previous game against Chicago, Atlanta United’s players were noticeably and admittedly shaken for several minutes during that game.

The players appeared to bounce back more quickly Wednesday after Gutman was forced off in the 58th minute. But the team failed to put a shot on goal in the second half.

“As a captain or every day we talk during the games, being up 2-0 we knew that they were going to try to press us and do a lot of long balls and try to attack our back line,” Matheus Rossetto said. “We obviously made some mistakes. We stopped making those runs in behind, like Gonzalo said, but we cannot think back on it too much; we need to focus on looking forward.”

Nashville got its equalizer and it came on a secondary moment off a set piece, the seventh such goal Atlanta United has surrendered this season across all competitions.

It started with Atlanta United defending a long throw-in, something Pineda said they worked on a lot. After a few touches, C.J. Sapong’s header tied the game in the second minute of stoppage time to force two more 15-minute periods of play.

Ethan Zubak secured the win with a goal in the 93rd minute.

Atlanta United put two shots in target in extra time, but neither were particularly troubling.

The team will host New England on Sunday when MLS play resumes.

“It’s just about defending well or the angles, it’s about not sustaining possession of the ball in certain areas and progressing forward,” Pineda said. “(We) stopped attacking basically, and that’s what worries me a little bit. In those moments we need more composure on the ball and don’t give the ball away so easily.”

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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 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

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

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

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