Atlanta recognize defensive shortcomings, correcting them may be tougher

WASHINGTON – After his team’s defensive frailties surfaced again in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at D.C. United, Atlanta United head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said the expansion club’s recent wounds have been self-inflicted.

But the former Argentina national team boss offered little in assurances or solutions as his team continues a stretch of eight matches – including US Open Cup commitments – in 25 days.

“Sometimes you can correct mistakes and sometimes you can’t,” Martino said through an interpreter. “After the [loss] in Chicago and in between the game in Columbus, we made the same errors but we were able to beat Columbus. So sometimes you make mistakes but you still win the game.”

Atlanta has allowed eight goals over their last four league matches, but still owns a plus-seven goal differential after scoring a league-best 32 goals through 16 matches. D.C. appear to have their number, however. Though they have just 12 goals all year, the Black-and-Red have scored five times in two games against Atlanta, defeating the Five Stripes twice this year.

“I’m not sure if it’s anything specific to them,” Atlanta midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “We seem to make mistakes. They break into spaces pretty well when the ball turns over and they took their chances tonight. I don’t think we did as well as they did taking their chances.”

Goalkeeper Alec Kann didn’t emerge scot free on Wednesday, losing his footing while attempting to deal with a risky Michael Parkhurst back-pass that set up Luciano Acosta’s 23rd-minute equalizer. Kann has played well this year, but could be in line for backup duty once US international Brad Guzan becomes eligible to play in July.

“I took a big touch and I tried to clip it out wide, and I didn’t get enough on it,” Kann explained. “Acosta took a good touch and made a good one-on-one play and scored.

Yet Atlanta also looked vulnerable from crosses all evening. Patrick Nyarko headed wide from one promising service and struck the crossbar with another before capitalizing on a third off Chris Korb’s boot for to volley home his 60th-minute game-winner.

“There’s a lot of moving parts with that,” Kann said of defending crosses. “We need to cut it off at the source. We need to do better of in-box defending. We need to block crosses before they get in the box. We need to come and claim some more crosses and box some. We need to make sure we’re matched up when the ball goes wide because we know where it’s going.”

Those struggles – plus Bill Hamid’s sensational denial of Josef Martinez’s free kick in second half stoppage time – amounted to a third loss out of four league games for Atlanta.

And with another cagey, cross-happy side in Colorado visiting Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE), the path ahead defensively seems murky.

“It’s tough, because obviously we’re not trying to concede a goal,” said Julian Gressel, who scored Atlanta’s goal on Wednesday. “Goals happen in games and you have to go through those moments. And yeah, just got to stick it out and obviously try to limit mistakes on our end and try not to get them as many chances as we probably did today. Just got to focus on getting better and focus on Saturday.”