When Atlanta United doesn’t score first it doesn’t win

Atlanta United midfielder Emerson Hyndman (20) attempts shot at goal as New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara (18) blocks the ball during the second half Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Branden Camp/For the AJC)

Atlanta United was shut out for the seventh time this MLS season in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls.

This shutout was slightly different than the first time it was shut out, which coincidentally was also 1-0 by Red Bulls back in the MLS tournament.

In that defeat, Atlanta United put four shots on goal, including one by Adam Jahn that forced a split-second save.

In Saturday’s loss, Atlanta United put just one weak shot on goal and it didn’t come until the game’s final minutes.

“We did have quality on the pitch, but weren’t able to get shots off,” interim manager Stephen Glass said. “We had a couple opportunities off set plays, but tonight wasn’t our night.”

The team’s task was made more difficult, according to Glass and captain Jeff Larentowicz, by Red Bulls taking a lead just two minutes into the start of the second half. It was New York’s first shot on goal — it had just two in the game — and it allowed them to settle into tactics the team has honed over the seasons.

Atlanta United’s lineup, which featured several players in their first seasons in MLS, didn’t have the experience and needed a bit more effort to unlock Red Bulls, according to Larentowicz.

“I said it at halftime when I came in, I think we needed 10-to-15 percent more when we’re in that final third,” he said. “If we’re getting a half-of-a-step for a cross, you have to have more players in the box. Sometimes we were crossing to nobody and that’s just not going to be able to get it done. To be able to score a goal, you have to be on the front foot, fill the box, get on the end of something and score the goal.”

Atlanta United attempted seven open play crosses in the first half with Jon Gallagher in at striker. He reached one by beating his defender to the near post. His headed shot went wide.

Larentowicz said the most important lesson for the team is that it must score early when it is controlling the game. Atlanta United was the better team in the first half, particularly in the final 15 minutes of the first half when Marcelino Moreno, making his debut, and Emerson Hyndman began combining with wide players Jurgen Damm, Brooks Lennon, Jake Mulraney and George Bello. Damm twice had the ball in the penalty box but seemed to get stuck between ideas and as a result wasted opportunities.

“When you’re on the front foot, when you’re dangerous in the first half, you have to score the goal,” Larentowicz said. “That’s what changes the game. That’s what the reward for your good play is.”

The stats to support Larentowicz: Atlanta United is 5-0-0 when it scores first. It is 0-9-1 when it concedes first.

“Honestly the lesson is not necessarily what you’re going to do when you’re down 1-0 and a team packs it in, the question really is, when we’re on top of the game, can we get a hold of the game by scoring the goal," Larentowicz said.

Atlanta United coming games

Wednesday at Miami (3-7-2), 8 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 18 at Toronto (6-2-4) in Hartford, Conn., 7:30 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 24 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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