But they certainly are better than what the team did in losing Game 2-0 on Wednesday at Lower.com Field. Without Almada, who couldn’t play because he received a red card in the season finale, the team set a franchise low with one shot. It tied a franchise low by not putting that shot on goal. It created only one chance.
“We will have Thiago back, we will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium we will be strong,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “We have to be on the front foot. It’s a life-or-death match, and we have to go all in.”
The team set up in a formation using three centerbacks and three central midfielders to try to clog the inner channels that Columbus likes to use. It worked defensively for the game’s first 45 minutes. But the offense struggled throughout, even when Pineda switched back to using only two centerbacks in the second half.
Ronald Hernandez was selected as one of the centerbacks because Pineda said he thought he would be able to move up the field and take advantage of his passing ability. That didn’t happen. Hernandez also struggled defensively. He couldn’t do enough to stop Cucho Hernandez from shooting on Columbus’ first goal and was called for the penalty in the second half that Hernandez converted to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Xande Silva was supposed to play in a quasi-attacking midfielder role underneath Giorgos Giakoumakis. Silva sometimes drifted out wide to the left, which is where he normally plays, leaving Giakoumakis to have to come back into the midfield to try to be a passing option to break the Crew’s press. Whether in the middle or out wide, Silva struggled to positively impact the match. It was the fourth consecutive match in which he was not sharp.
Pineda offered a few more explanations for why the offense was so poor Wednesday. He said the team had chances to shoot but failed to do so. He said at times they were indecisive with movements or their passing. There were a few times in the first half that Brooks Lennon was sprinting down the right side into space, but his teammates either didn’t see him or wouldn’t try the pass.
“Yes, Thiago helps with how many people he attracts, and that creates spaces for others maybe,” Pineda said. “But yeah, I think it’s an area we have to do better.”
The lack of impact couldn’t be explained by the players.
“Honestly, I’m really disappointed with how the attack played out tonight,” Saba Lobjanidze said. “But it’s still just the first game of the series. We have the second game coming up. We have to keep our heads up and continue working.”
How could having Almada back help?
First, he’s very good at taking free kicks. It was his corner kick that Miles Robinson headed in for the tying goal in the 1-1 draw three weeks ago. He’s also scored multiple times from free kicks this season, which is something Columbus would have to be mindful of when defending him from 30 yards and closer.
Second, he led the league in assists (19) because he sees passes that others don’t, and he can complete them. Almada has been good at finding Lennon in those deep spaces, for example.
Third, teams must pick and choose when to try to press him because if he dribbles or passes past them, Atlanta United could have a numbers advantage in its attack.
“If I had a magic wand to wave it around, and all of a sudden we’re going to go and create 15 chances and then obviously I’d do that, but that’s not how it works,” captain Brad Guzan said. “That’s not how professional sports work. And we’ve got to make sure we win.”
For more content about Atlanta United
Follow me on Twitter @DougRobersonAJC
On Facebook at Atlanta United News Now
On Instagram at DouglasDavidRoberson
Atlanta United coverage on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Southern Fried Soccer podcast can be found
Apple - https://apple.co/3ISD6Ve
Spotify - https://spoti.fi/3L8TN0C
Google podcasts - https://bit.ly/32KlZW3
If you are listening to us for the first time, please follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast ... and if you like what you hear, please give us a good rating so we can grow the show. If you have questions about the MLS team, you can email Doug Roberson at email@example.com, DM him on Twitter @dougrobersonajc or call 404-526-2527.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a special offer for our podcast listeners. If you subscribe today, you can get three months of unlimited digital access for just 99 cents. That’s all of our sports coverage, politics, breaking news, investigations, food and dining, and so much more on AJC.com. Plus, access to our ePaper and our assortment of newsletters. So, join our community by going to subscribe.ajc.com/podcasts that’s subscribe.ajc.com/podcasts so you always know what’s really going on.
Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1
March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1
April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0
April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1
April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2
April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1
April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1
May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1
May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1
May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0
May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3
May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1
May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3
June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0
June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1
June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2
June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0
July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0
July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0
July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1
July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1
July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup
July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup
Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0
Aug. 26 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0
Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1
Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2
Sept. 16 Atlanta United 5, Inter Miami 2
Sept. 20 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 1
Sept. 23 Atlanta United 4, Montreal 1
Oct. 4 Philadelphia 3, Atlanta United 2
Oct. 7 Atlanta United 1, Columbus 1
Oct. 21 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2
Nov. 1 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 0