Tata Martino: Atlanta may be feeling weight of high expectations at home

ATLANTA – Eight games into their inaugural season, Atlanta United FC are struggling in two areas key for any successful franchise, expansion or not: winning at home and holding early leads.

Despite huge crowd numbers at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta have taken only three points from three matches there – as opposed to eight points from five away dates, including tough draws at Seattle and Toronto FC, last year's MLS Cup finalists.

On Sunday, they fell 3-1 to D.C. United, continuing that string of home frustration.

Paradoxically, perhaps, manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino chalked up his team's struggles at Bobby Dodd to their desire to win for the home supporters.

“I think when we play at home, we know that the fans have high expectations for the team,” Martino said. “So maybe there’s a little more pressure on us when we play at home.”

Defender Tyrone Mears agreed.

“We’ve got a great away record and I think we’ve shocked a lot of people with that," Mears said. "But it is important; we have to win our home games. It was a setback, but we are not going to get down. We’re not going to change things.”

Another reason for concern for Atlanta is that, after Sunday they’ve now blown four leads. Against D.C., they led 1-0 after nine minutes but then started bleeding goals.

“We played a great first 20 minutes of the game,” Martino said, "Although after that we made some defensive mistakes that ended up being very costly.”

Martino said a lack of consistency is hurting the team, but he remains optimistic they can bounce back.

“The good thing is we are creating chances and that’s really important for us,” he said. “What we have to do is when we are ahead in the game, we can’t give the other team an opportunity to come back in the game.”

Mears said it will help to have some of the players currently out with injury -- such as forward Josef Martinez and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz -- back in the squad. 

“When those guys come back it is going to put pressure on the starting XI,” he said. “And you need that throughout the season. You need competition.”