A moment late in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls may have been the perfect example of the fatigue that has amassed and finally caught up to Atlanta United.
Franco Escobar had the ball on the right, and attempted to lead Hector Villalba with a pass down the right sideline. The pass was only ahead of Villalba by a few yards. But Villalba, one of the fastest players in MLS and a straight-line missile when he gets going, took a half-step and stopped. The ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds.
Atlanta United was playing its sixth game in a stretch of eight in 28 days. Try as he might to rotate players, manager Frank de Boer said the work and travel, which has included trips to Vancouver and Kansas City, caught up to the team.
“I think 100 percent it's fatigue,” he said. “That's why I gave them now two days off, because we have to be physically but also mentally ready for Salt Lake on Friday. You know, I saw the spirit was there. They want it, but maybe the body and the mind sometimes will not do what you think you want to do.”
On offense, Atlanta United put just two shots on goal against a Red Bulls team that was forced to play with 10 men after Tim Parker received a red card in the 35th minute because he denied Josef Martinez an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
“We tried everything, but we were not capable to finish it,” de Boer said.
The signs of fatigue on offense have been evident for longer than just Sunday’s performance against Red Bulls.
The team has now played 16 games in 12-1/2 weeks since its opener against Herediano on Feb. 21 in the Champions League.
Possibly as a result, Atlanta United hasn’t scored a goal that wasn’t a penalty kick since Pity Martinez did so in the 14th minute of a, 1-0, win May 12 against Orlando. That’s a span of 266 minutes.
The Five Stripes created just eight chances against a disciplined, determined Red Bulls squad.
“We show a lot of sloppy passes, not, you know — I don't think it was, you know, lack of concentration,” de Boer said. “It was maybe tiredness I think. That’s why we couldn't pull the trigger, for example. Of course, we had two chances, of course, for Joseph in the first half, and the second half, yeah, we tried everything, but we were not capable to finish it.”
On defense, the shutout streak ended at 520 minutes when Tom Barlow got between Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar to put a header back across the goal and into the corner in the 65th minute. Atlanta United came into the game having held opponents scoreless for 456 minutes. The 521-minute streak is the longest in MLS this season.
Atlanta United will next play Friday at Real Salt Lake, the capper in an odd stretch of three road games that started Wednesday at Vancouver and continued on Sunday at New York.
“Wen you have the run that we did, at some point it’s going come to an end, that’s happened today, not the end of the world,” Brad Guzan said. “We now have to make sure that we get back to Atlanta tomorrow, rest up mentally and physically.”
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