Can Barco and Moreno fix Atlanta United’s ailing offense?

Ezequiel Barco dives the ball during Atlanta United's 1-0 loss to Toronto Sunday in Connecticut.
Ezequiel Barco dives the ball during Atlanta United's 1-0 loss to Toronto Sunday in Connecticut.

Credit: MLS

Credit: MLS

Team has just one shot on goal in each of past three MLS games

Atlanta United’s offense is broken, perhaps historically so.

It has mustered just one shot in each of its past three games. MLS doesn’t keep records for fewest shots in consecutive games, but it was remembered that Toronto took 0, 1, 1, shots on goal in 2009.

Instead of creating traction to climb up the standings and into one of the 10 spots in the playoffs, the team is instead slipping with every bit of indecisiveness in the final third, every cross into an outmanned penalty box, every searching pass that harmlessly rolls across the touchline.

With Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Toronto in which it created just three chances, Atlanta United fell to 11th place in the Eastern Conference. It trails ninth-place Nashville by two points, 10th-place Chicago by one point and leads 13th-place Cincinnati by three points. Four slots in the playoff have been clinched. Three more seem out of Atlanta United’s reach because of the gap in points between it and New England (28), NYCFC (27) and New York Red Bulls (25). That leaves six teams competing for the final three spots.

“It’s no secret we’re not getting loads of chances but that’s the game, that’s sports," Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "It’s certainly frustrating. In the sense of the result, but it’s our job to roll our sleeves up and try to pick up points in the last few games and see where we end up.”

Next up is D.C. United on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Last in the East, it would seem to be the perfect opponent to jumpstart Atlanta United’s offense, just like what happened in the team’s 4-0 win on October 3 at Audi Field. That outburst turned out to be an outlier for the offense. It had scored five goals in the five games before D.C. United and has scored just one goal in four games since.

Adding to the hope is the possibility that Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno could start together for the first time. They came on as a pair in the second half against Toronto. It was the first time since late August that Atlanta United had two Designated Players on the field at the same time. Though they contributed just one shot and one chance created, they gave the team a boost in confidence.

Atlanta United's Marcelino Moreno drives down field against Toronto Sunday in Connecticut.
Atlanta United's Marcelino Moreno drives down field against Toronto Sunday in Connecticut.

Credit: MLS

Credit: MLS

“Yes, they’re good players,” Guzan said. “At this moment, we need anybody that can give us ideas and creativity and attacking options. The amount of games that certain players have had to play, it’s certainly not easy. We understand that other teams are doing it but maybe it’s a first-time thing for certain guys in our group so to add them back into the mix is certainly a positive.”

Though it’s a low bar to surpass, it’s difficult to predict if Barco and Moreno will spark the offense. Barco missed the previous seven games with an undisclosed injury. He has yet to show consistency since joining the team before the 2018 season. After starting the season brightly with two goals and an assist in the first two games, he hasn’t scored and has just two assists in his past nine appearances. He has 10 goals and nine assists in 52 of a possible 81 regular season appearances with the team.

Moreno played 60 minutes two games ago and didn’t recover well enough to even travel to play in the next game at Miami, which the team drew 1-1 on a late goal by Jake Mulraney. It was the team’s only shot on goal and came in the 83rd minute.

It’s as if both were recently signed and dropped into the roster. They will get several training sessions to try to improve chemistry with their teammates.

“They looked very dangerous,” interim manager Stephen Glass said. “It’s the first time Barco has played in a long time. It’s only Moreno’s second game with the group. For us to get to know how he plays with the players, tonight will be a great help. Now we get a good week of training heading into the D.C. United game. I’m sure you will see a very positive and motivated performance from a team to build on tonight’s performance level.”

Even with Barco and Moreno, the problems may not be fixed by an injection of talent. Guzan and midfielder Mo Adams said work needs doing as a team on what to do once the team gets near the opponents goal. Adams mentioned being sharper with the decision making and getting more players into the penalty box. Guzan mentioned trying to be more aggressive going forward when the team wins the ball, and then to play back toward the middle if there’s nothing coming from the flanks.

“I don’t think it is time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Adams said. “We’ve got not many games left. Some of them are winnable, I’d say. So, it is time for us to put points on the board or else it is going to be an extremely disappointing season for us. There is an improvement in our play I’d say the past few games, but we have to create much more chances to be able to score.”

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Atlanta United coming games

Saturday vs. D.C. United (2-5-5), 4 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 28 at Orlando (6-2-4), 7:30 p.m., FS1

Nov. 1 vs. Cincinnati (3-6-3), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (8-1-3), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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