It has been an uneasy and uneven start to the MLS campaign for Atlanta United, a team that is clearly finding its way through the season’s first seven games.
Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Nashville SC showed the two extremes to Atlanta United. A first half of dominance gave way to a second half where breakdowns and a lack of execution led to dropped points.
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There is no denying that Atlanta United is in a better way right now than a year ago. Under Gabriel Heinze, they are more fluid and dynamic, even as the sum of their parts is not living up to its full attacking potential.
But there are still defensive issues and the club is having trouble putting teams away. For a team as talented as Atlanta United, the struggles evident in Saturday’s draw clearly point to a team not just a work in progress.
Atlanta United, is clearly looking for an identity. If they have the personnel right now to do it is a legitimate question.
“A football game can’t be analyzed by individual parts. You have to analyze the whole context,” Heinze told reporters after the game.
“The way I feel is to analyze the whole game. You can play in different ways. You can be attacking well and defending bad. But the results are not going to appear often. I think you need to work in both parts in order to win a game.”
The issue for Atlanta United remains their shape. The team sits 2-1-4 (10 points) and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference – not a terrible record by any stretch. But defensive miscues have plagued this team all season long and kept Atlanta United midtable through seven matches.
It is a lazy narrative to say that Atlanta United, a team known for their firepower and attractive style of play, isn’t concerned with defensive responsibilities. But on Saturday, that trope held true.
Both of Nashville’s goals came in the game’s final 20 minutes when Atlanta United should be closing out opponents. Both saw Atlanta stretched out, without the necessary numbers in their third, and unable to clear the ball effectively.
While Atlanta held an edge in possession, there are clear issues with this team defensively and the amount of time and space they give to opponents on the ball. There are also issues about what the team does when they have the ball.
Despite holding possession for nearly 62 percent of the game (and actually hitting far more long balls than usual on Saturday), Atlanta United had just five shots on goal (the same as Nashville SC) and was actually outshot 14:12 by the visitors.
“There’s a lot of emotions for sure. You go through the game thinking that you are playing well and the team is going well, then that happens,” outside back George Bello said.
“Results like that, for me at least and I’m sure for a lot of the guys, it feels like a loss. But we have to keep going. It’s in the past now. We have a break, so we have to regroup. We just have to get ready to keep going. It is still early in the season. We have to move on from it.”