New York Red Bulls defender Sean Nealis (15) controls the ball during the first half in a MLS game against The Atlanta United on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Defensive lapses costly for Atlanta United vs. Red Bulls

It’s usually a tough, close game when Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls play in MLS season and on Sunday it was determined by only a matter of yards.

When Atlanta United took the 3-2 lead in stoppage time off a headed goal by Josef Martinez, the club merely had to hold on to get the win and walk out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium with three points. 

But a last-second goal from New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips from about eight yards forced a 3-3 draw. How it happened, however, is really what plagued Atlanta United throughout the game. 

The Red Bulls’ goals primarily happened by either getting a man open on the break when an Atlanta United defender didn’t slide over, or taking advantage of a mental lapse, something which has plagued the team most of the season.

That was the case on New York’s second goal when the Red Bulls took a 2-1 lead. Michael Parkhurst couldn’t reach a pass from Daniel Royer to Alex Muyl, whose cross rolled just in front of Miles Robinson, who didn’t make an attempt at the ball. Brian White finished the play.

The first goal started because of a turnover by fullback Mikey Ambrose and finished with Franco Escobar getting spun by Royer. 

The third happened when no one picked up Wright-Phillips, who was standing between Atlanta United defenders 18 yards from goal when he ran onto a perfect pass.

Manager Frank de Boer didn’t blame any one player for not doing their job, but he did recognize it as a poor defensive effort. 

“You cannot blame the defenders, it’s the whole team,” de Boer said. “It’s all a team effort, and we have to understand that. We have quality enough to not concede so many goals.” 

Atlanta United has given up 12 goals in its last four games. That total is more than the amount of goals it allowed in its first 15 games when it was considered to have one of the league’s best defenses. 

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan said it’s frustrating. The team struggled defensively in the first part of the season in Champions League and its first league games and dropped games and drew others. 
“We’re not going to win many games playing like that,” Guzan said. “To a certain extent, it feels like the beginning of the season. We have to make sure we get back to playing strong defensively and allow players like Josef Martinez to go and win us the game.”

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