Punchless Atlanta United loses an important game to the Red Bulls

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Team has two wins in its past 11 games

Needing a win and good performance to try to keep its slim MLS playoff hopes alive, Atlanta United instead was beaten 2-1 by the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If not for Rocco Rios Novo, the team could have given up four goals in the first half. Despite having less than 30% possession, the Red Bulls took 13 shots, put five on goal, and finished with an expected goals of 1.0 in front of an announced attendance of 42,555.

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The offense was mostly punchless when it needed to show something to try to start to walk down the six teams it is chasing for the seventh and final playoff spot. It put five of its 12 shots on goal and finished with an expected goals total of 0.9. Josef Martinez scored in the 94th minute. It was his 100th goal for the club in regular season and playoff appearances. He said he wished it could have come in a better result.

“It’s not over,” he said. “There’s still a lot to fight for. We’ve got a lot of games left, we’ve got to continue to fight. So I just want to say we’re really grateful for the fans who came and supported us. But we’ve got to correct the mistakes from this game, the bad 20 minutes that we played, and move on to the next games and try and be better.”

The team (7-10-8) has nine games remaining, starting on Sunday at Columbus. Atlanta United has two wins its past 11 and remains winless in 12 regular-season matches against the Red Bulls. It fell to 6-4-4 at home, one of the clearest pieces of evidence of the team’s issues.

“We had a good start,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And then we concede that silly goal, in my opinion. And then we start to go down mentally, and we couldn’t even connect certain passes, and we started to not to be as proactive as we started the game. And then we concede the second one on a set piece. And then it’s almost like a lot of motivation there to just connect the passes and go forward.”

It did get some good luck. Because of the results of Wednesday’s other matches, it remains four points below the playoff line. But it no longer has played one fewer game than the teams it is chasing.

Pineda switched the formation for the game, choosing a back four, and inserting Martinez in the starting lineup. He had come off the bench in the previous two games. Joining Martinez, who was making his 150th appearance for the team across all competitions, in an attack-minded lineup were Luiz Araujo, Ronaldo Cisneros, Thiago Almada, Luiz Araujo, Santiago Sosa, Ronald Hernandez, Caleb Wiley, Alan Franco, JuanJo Purata and Rios Novo.

Atlanta United started well but it was the Red Bulls who took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Lewis Morgan in the 11th minute. The sequence started with a turnover by Araujo in his team’s half. Kyle Duncan beat two Atlanta United defenders down the right side to put in a cross that was deflected by Cristian Casseres to the unmarked Morgan, who one-timed a shot into the left corner.

A second Red Bulls goal, scored by John Tolkin from a cross that became a shot in the 15th minute from a corner kick, was at first waved off by referee Ted Unkel. After a review that lasted four minutes to see if Patrik Klimala was offside, Unkel reversed his decision, resulting in Atlanta United trailing 2-0. It was the 10th goal from a set piece allowed by Atlanta United this season and second in as many games. The shot by Tolkin, who wasn’t pressured by an Atlanta United player, went just over Klimala’s head and into the left corner. Rios Novo had a chance to save it but the ball went through his hands.

“Yeah it’s never good to go down two goals really early on in a game that is one of the biggest games of our season at home and to go down 2-0 in the first 20 minutes is definitely a shock, not the way you want to start such an important game,” Brooks Lennon said.

New York 2, Atlanta United 1

The first two goals were mistakes that Atlanta United has made all season, including in last week’s 2-2 draw with Cincinnati. The first was the turnover in its half. The second was poor making on a set piece.

“New York Red Bulls, they’ve scored a lot of goals on offensive set pieces this year,” Lennon said. “I think they’re kind of a bigger team. They like to rumble in inside the box. And they scored a goal on us just like that. And we need to fix those mistakes.”

Rios Novo was forced to make two more last-gasp saves after defensive breakdowns to keep the score 2-0 at halftime. The Red Bulls took 11 shots, putting five on goal, and finished the first half with an expected goals total of 0.8. Atlanta United’s offense wasn’t as bad as its defense, but it was close. It finished the half with an expected goals total of 0.3 after putting three of its six shots on goal. None were very threatening.

Pineda didn’t waste time making changes. On came Andrew Gutman and Lennon to start the second half in place of Marcelino Moreno and Hernandez. With the change, Cisneros moved from right wing to a striker alongside Martinez. Wiley moved to left wing in place of Araujo, who moved to the right side in place of Moreno.

With just one shot on goal in the second half, Pineda made two more changes in the 64th minute, putting on Dom Dwyer for Cisneros and Edwin Mosquera for Wiley.

The moves weren’t enough.

Martinez’s goal was assisted by Araujo and Almada.

“The team continued fighting, competing and going for the goals,” Pineda said. “The team is going to fight until the end.”

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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 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

August 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

August 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

August 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

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

August 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