Atlanta United: What to make of club as season wraps up

Atlanta United (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Atlanta United (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Here’s what to make of Atlanta United when it comes to the regular season

With only one game remaining in the regular season, Atlanta United are a point outside the playoffs, which were expanded to 10 teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Atlanta plays Columbus on Sunday, who are vying for the fourth place spot and a chance at a bye in the first round. Atlanta did not make Sunday’s match easy, and instead recently squandered points against D.C. United, Toronto, and Miami. That string of three matches left the Five Stripes with only a point from nine.

This is not new though, not this year at least. De Boer was out by the end of the MLS is Back Tournament with no replacement (still) on the horizon. There was a high amount of volatility between transfers, the club released or waived eight players, one DP left for Asia, and another DP was out all season except for the first match.

On paper, a season where Atlanta plays a playoff match would be a success. This would be the first season in the club’s brief history it wouldn’t, but with how the club has been dealt the 2020 season, it would be in character.

Expectations for Sunday  (and maybe the playoffs)

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For the first time since probably September, the team has some actual pressure to perform collectively. Since the MLS is Back Tournament, the narrative has constantly been about individual performances that should have been better, like from Barco and Pity Martinez, or about the excitement and sense of patience from new squad members, like Cubo Torres or Jurgen Damm.

Pity Martinez is gone, Barco has fallen out of favor and stumbled with injury, Damm is finally getting minutes, Stephen Glass has an actual style of play, albeit simple: abuse the pace out wide, and let the attacking midfielder and striker drift by each other between the lines. Effective against Cincinnati and D.C., but nowhere near competitive against Toronto or, especially, Columbus.

Where to go from here

The obvious gap is the manager. Carlos Bocanegra, Arthur Blank, and Darren Eales have made a smart move to hold off until December to seriously consider a manager. But their collective reach into the club’s daily workings is part of the root problem. De Boer may have failed to control some of the squad, but overhauling the personnel in a season where Atlanta has to start early because of the CONCACAF Champions League, and are defending a domestic cup, is not the kindest thing to do to a manager.

Glass is a temporary fix. His style of play is not what the team is used to, and that is abundantly clear with the common miscommunication when Barco is on the field. But the players have not helped him out enough. Barco has had a goal to game ratio of .18. Compare that to Tito Villalba, who left in January and spent the last two seasons mainly coming off the bench, who had a ratio of .25, and it is clear where issues are coming from.

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Atlanta is not creating chances from anywhere on the field. Atlanta is creating around 9 shots per game; third-worst in the league. The silver lining is the team has kept the trend of dominating possession, but again, the ball is not going anywhere near the opposing goal. Atlanta has the fourth most touches in their own half this season. The truth is almost any manager with defined, attacking tactics will reinvigorate this side.