"Never say never": Atlanta United hanging on for dear life as slim playoff hopes fade

Brad Guzan - Goal Atlanta United - October 28, 2020

Atlanta United weren't officially eliminated from Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoff contention by virtue of their 4-1 loss to Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday night. One look at the standings, though, and it's easy to see why it's difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't end with the 2018 MLS Cup Champions watching the postseason from home for the first time in its brief history.

It's a rapid and shocking fall for a team that won both Campeones Cup over Club America and the U.S. Open Cup Final over Minnesota United last year, and came just short of a second straight MLS Cup appearance save for a loss against Toronto FC. Despite receiving some good news later in the evening in the form of an FC Dallas 2-1 win over 10th-place Inter Miami CF in Frisco, the Five Stripes still have it all to do: they sit at 19 points, needing to leapfrog Miami, Chicago Fire FC and D.C. United.

Highlights: Orlando City SC vs. Atlanta United

"Our backs are against the wall - everyone knows that," said defender Laurence Wyke, forced into his first start since March 7 with Miles Robinson out of the lineup. "We're not winning games. We're playing well in spells, and then we're not. Conceding goals tonight — probably on me. But 'never say never'. If we get these 6 points in the next 2 games and (other teams) start losing games, there's always an opportunity."

And while any slim hope is still as good as any for Stephen Glass's troops as they welcome last-place FC Cincinnati to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), they'll need to show much better than the team that have lost three in a row and gone winless in its last 6. During that stretch, they've managed just three goals and have been shut out three times, a far cry from the free-flowing, vibrant Tata Martino-led club that initially took MLS by storm.

Now, a team without one of the league's most lethal strikers for much of the year and having undergone an offseason makeover — not to mention parting ways with Frank de Boer after a disastrous showing at the MLS Is Back Tournament — is left in an unfamiliar position: attempting to scratch and claw its way out of the basement.

Glass, for his part, brushed aside suggestions that the remaining two matches would serve in part to evaluate younger players, stressing that the team's focus would only be on beating Cincinnati.

"Beyond that, there's no point in looking at anything different, or anything more," the Atlanta interim boss said succinctly.