Saved penalty kicks, poor defense cost Atlanta United in loss

Atlanta United played Inter Miami on Wednesday in MLS action in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Atlanta United played Inter Miami on Wednesday in MLS action in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Credit: MLS

Credit: MLS

Luis Robles twice denies Ezequiel Barco; Atlanta United has won just one of past eight

This is the depth to which Atlanta United’s season has sunk: In Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Miami, Ezequiel Barco was denied on two penalty kicks in a span of video review-induced minutes.

The shots, expertly saved by Miami goalkeeper Luis Robles, were taken by Barco late in the first half with his team trailing by one goal. He got a second chance because it was determined that players from both teams encroached into the penalty box on the first.

“It’s the overriding factor in us not getting a point,” interim manager Stephen Glass said

Before the first penalty, it appeared that Barco and Erick Torres argued over who would take it. Glass said that Barco was the designated penalty taker. The penalties were the result of Miami’s Nicolas Figal elbowing Jon Gallagher in the face. Figal wasn’t given a red card. Had that happened, Miami would have been forced to play with 10 the remainder of the game, which Glass said was also an important factor.

“Not a country on the planet that that’s not a red card,” Glass said.

But failing to convert two penalties weren’t the only low talking points. Atlanta United’s defense, which has been fortunate this season to not allow more goals, was punished for its mistakes by Miami, which was one of the worst scoring teams in the league before Wednesday.

Lastly, for as much energy as Atlanta United showed on offense in the first half, which was different than the past six games, it created just one good chance that wasn’t from a set piece in the first 45 minutes. That one chance came from defensive midfielder Eric Remedi, who scored his first goal this season while being close to being on his back in the penalty box. It created two chances. Atlanta United finished with 13 shots, five on goal as the team chased a result yet again. It took just two shots in the final 22 minutes. Both were from way outside the penalty box.

Atlanta United (3-5-2) has just one win its past eight league games. It will play at Nashville on Saturday.

Atlanta United’s starting 11 featured two surprises: the inclusions of midfielder Jurgen Damm and midfielder Jon Gallagher for their first starts in MLS. Torres started at striker, along with a midfield of Barco, starting centrally in the role previously held by Pity Martinez, Emerson Hyndman and Remedi in the midfield. The fullbacks were George Bello and Brooks Lennon. The centerbacks were Miles Robinson and Anton Walkes. Brad Guzan started in goal. With an average of 24 ½ years, it was the youngest lineup in club history and that’s with Guzan celebrating his 36th birthday on Wednesday.

The teams were supposed to play two weeks ago, but after travelling to Ft. Lauderdale the teams declined to compete as part of protests against social inequalities after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Miami had the best first chance when Robinson and Walkes made a hash out of a long ball, allowing two Miami players in on Guzan. But he got down to his right and pushed the weak shot out of bounds.

Atlanta United looked better going forward, but still put just one shot on frame through the first 25 minutes and it came on a free kick by Barco,

Miami struck first with a goal by Lewis Morgan in the 28th minute. The play started with an Atlanta United corner kick that was cleared down the field to Rodolfo Pizarro with yards of open space and players on either side of him. Hyndman, who was supposed to be marking Pizarro, couldn’t catch him. Pizarro passed to his right to Morgan who put a right-footed shot low past Guzan.

Atlanta United tied it five minutes when Remedi dribbled through the middle. He passed it to Barco, who passed it to Damm, who mishit his cross but it went to Remedi, who mishit his shot too. But he was first to pounce on the loose ball and, while lying down, kicked the ball into the goal. It was his first this season.

Miami got its lead back in the 38th minute when Morgan put a left-footed shot into the left corner. No one marked Morgan, who was standing in the middle of the penalty box.

“Gave up two cheap goals in the first half,” Lennon said. “Both goals came off our mistakes going forward.”

And then came the missed penalties in the second minute of injury time in the first half. The kick was given after Figal’s elbow. Glass said that referee Robert Sibiga said that he didn’t believe that Figal used his elbow or was aggressive. Glass said he can’t understand how four referees and a video crew missed that.

“I felt like he caught me a few times early on and was maybe a bit frustrated,” Gallagher said. “I can see him looking where I am and the next time I’m getting an elbow across the jaw.”

On the first, Barco went to his left but Robles made the save. Torres was first to the loose ball and scored. But a video review determined that Torres encroached into the penalty box before Barco’s shot. It was also judged that Miami also encroached, allowing Barco a do-over. It was saved again, this time to the right.

Atlanta United didn’t really threaten Miami in the second half. It moved the ball slowly and, even when Adam Jahn was brought on, seldom tried to test Miami’s centerbacks with a high cross.

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Saturday at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South)

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