Warshaw: Atlanta United performance on Thursday is no surprise

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Posted by Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League on Thursday, February 21, 2019

It feels the same on the field as it does from your couch.

What the heck is going on?

Atlanta United labored to a 3-1 loss against Herediano in Costa Rica on Thursday night. It was weird to watch. Even acknowledging that Herediano is a solid team, Atlanta played worse than anyone could have predicted. They looked disjointed and slow, inferior in nearly every phase. They didn’t dominate and lose; they got dominated and probably should have lost by more.

I’ve been on the field in similar situations — away games on the road in cup competition (Concacaf Champions League or domestic cups) — and I can tell you, it feels as dismal and confusing on the field as it does from afar.

You know you’re the better team; you know that nobody on the other side could even make your roster; yet you’re fully aware that you’re getting crushed. You understand you’re getting embarrassed, but you don’t know why and you can’t figure it out. It’s not the playing surface (which, to be fair to Atlanta, didn't look great), it’s not the crowd, it has nothing to do with the travel.

All of those factors together wouldn’t make up for the difference in talent between the lineups. It’s a regular old game of soccer, but none of it makes sense. It’s just… something. You have no idea what it is. And there isn’t an adjustment that you can make to fix it.

If you’re trying to provide reasons or explanations from your chair right now, stop. You can try, but you’ll be wrong. You have to experience, to feel it — the confusion, the chaos, the fear.

You can think you’re prepared and you’ve done everything right — you can even know it’s coming, as surely every player on Atlanta did. They’ve all played cup games before. Yet, you show up and you still feel like you’re swimming with a weight tied to your ankles.

I’ve racked my brain for years trying to explain it. I have yet to come up with, or see another team execute, a legitimate answer. It’s not exclusive to MLS teams or Concacaf games, either. Cup games all over the world are bonkers.

You don’t win cup games, or work on developing anything in cup games, you merely survive cup games. Atlanta, for as wonderful as they may be this season — and I don’t think Thursday’s loss makes them any less likely to be excellent — didn’t understand that the best you can do is survive.

As Daniel Royer said after the Red Bulls2-0 win over Atletico Pantoja in the Dominican Republic Wednesday night: "In these countries, sometimes the conditions are not the best, but you have to take that how it is. We knew from the last couple of years when we went to those places it was always a dogfight. It’s not about the beautiful game. It’s about battling, about being ready for second balls, about being ready for duels. "

Atlanta should still be the favorites heading back to Atlanta next week. I wouldn’t read too much into this performance. It was just… a thing that happens on nights like Thursday night. Maybe we will look back and remember this as a warning sign.

But it’s more likely something that’s happened to innumerable teams prior, and will happen to innumerable teams in the future. You can’t dwell on the inevitable, you can only move on as fast as you can.