Short-handed Atlanta United manages draw in Nashville

Atlanta United midfielder Bartosz Slisz #6 celebrates after a goal during the second half of the match against the Nashville SC. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United midfielder Bartosz Slisz #6 celebrates after a goal during the second half of the match against the Nashville SC. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Atlanta United and Nashville SC have competed in a lot of games with legitimate stakes during their brief existences. Saturday didn’t qualify as one of them.

These once-consistent franchises have fallen into hard times. One (Nashville) recently made a notable change, dismissing manager Gary Smith; the other (Atlanta United) seems destined for its own alterations if this maddening season persists.

It’s only fitting, then, that these clubs played to a draw. Atlanta United tied Nashville SC 1-1 on Saturday. Still, the Five Stripes will take it, considering the circumstances.

Atlanta United was down firepower in Thiago Almada (calf) and Giorgos Giakoumakis (hamstring). The club wasn’t playing well even with them. Saturday’s result extended Atlanta United’s winless streak to eight matches. But at least it salvaged a point.

“You wanted to stop the bleeding,” midfielder Nick Firmino said. “When you’re in a rough patch like this, any point, any (non-losing) result helps the confidence of the team. It is a draw, but we build on it. ... We said you can go winless in seven or eight, but we can also go seven or eight games without losing. So it was a good step forward.

The Five Stripes had produced only two points and scored only one goal over their previous six road matches. Manager Gonzalo Pineda spoke positively after a loss to Cincinnati earlier this week, saying he felt they could build off that performance. He echoed a similar sentiment Saturday.

“I think, because of the moment we’re in, in terms of confidence and previous results, it was important to have something to build on,” Pineda said. “I think today, in terms of energy, commitment, fighting, grinding, it was really good. I was really pleased with the fight of this team. Of course, we’re missing some players, especially up front. But I think because of the circumstances, it was a good performance and a good result for us.”

Atlanta United hasn’t really built off anything the entire season. Therein lies the problem: It’s the same mistakes, same miscues dooming them. The “little things” that remained uncorrected. The energy had been questioned, which prompted a post-match “chat” earlier this week with players.

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva dribbles during the second half. (Photo by Johnnie Izquierdo/Atlanta United)

Credit: Johnnie Izquierdo/Atlanta United

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Credit: Johnnie Izquierdo/Atlanta United

Among those who voiced his opinion: goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who was called for a penalty in the 38th minute Saturday when he collided with Hany Mukhtar going for the ball. It was a tough call – and a costly one. Mukhtar converted the penalty kick with a strike to the right side. Guzan barely moved.

“Right after the game, I gave my opinion to the referee, and I’d prefer to keep it between him and I,” Pineda said of the penalty. “He knows what I think. He didn’t like it, but yeah. Let’s leave it at that.”

Atlanta United’s hero was Bartosz Slisz, whose first career MLS goal in the 55th minute helped salvage the point. Slisz was receiving treatment after the game and didn’t speak with reporters.

Guzan also had a tremendous save just before the match ended. Atlanta United avoided what could’ve been a brutal loss, and instead leaves Tennessee feeling encouraged.

“This is a good step forward for us to build on,” Firmino said. “Getting wins on the road in MLS is hard. But a tie does something for the morale of the group, and we look to build on that.”

Atlanta United had 10 shots, one on goal, while Nashville had 12 shots, five on goal. The Five Stripes had the possession advantage at 51.7%.

Defender Noah Cobb, 18, injured his ankle in the 72nd minute. He was in clear pain as he exited. Pineda didn’t have an update after the game but commended Cobb for telling him, “Coach, give me some time, I might be back (in).” Pineda: “It just shows the passion, the willingness of this team to try to win.” It’s a terrible situation for Cobb and his team, which already is dealing with enough injury woes.

Nashville fired Smith, its only coach since its inception, three days ago after a 3-4-5 start. It was the first firing of the MLS season. Nashville actually had won two of its past three games before Smith’s dismissal, but it had started slowly with only one win over its first nine games. This was Nashville’s first match under interim coach Rumba Munthali.

Atlanta United’s next MLS match is May 25 against LAFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Hopefully from this we can build some confidence, some connection offensively,” Pineda said. “You can see there’s a piece there missing, in terms of the final product. But I think that will come. We have to make this the minimum standard for the club.”