Despite another loss to DC, Atlanta remain positive about playoff chances

WASHINGTON – When the history of Atlanta United’s inaugural season is written, D.C. United just might be cast as enemy No. 1, the unlikely foe that inexplicably beat the Five Stripes three times to foil their quest to become the first expansion team to make the playoffs since 2009.

Or, they may be relegated to an anomalous, forgettable footnote.

Ultimately, the story arc depends on how Atlanta react to a third and final defeat to D.C. this season, a 1-0 loss at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night that turned on Michael Parkhurst’s own goal.

And while Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side will certainly feel they lost three big chances to pick up points against a last-place team, the big picture math is still promising.

“Every game impacts the playoffs, obviously,” said defender Jeff Larentowicz. “We win on Saturday [in Philadelphia], we keep our minds right, we move into the home stretch, we’ll be fine.”

Atlanta remained below the playoff line after the defeat, which followed a 17-day layoff created in part by the club’s move from Bobby Dodd Stadium to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They’re now a point behind sixth-place Montreal, but with at least one game in hand on all the teams above them, and four on a fourth-place Columbus team that currently holds a four-point edge.

Atlanta will also play six consecutive home matches in September.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan understands has Atlanta some margin for error, but isn’t about to count points that haven’t been earned.

“You tell me where we’re at in the table and that’s where we’re at,” Guzan said. “There’s a lot of games to be played. The month of September is a big month for us. We know that. The games are going to come thick and fast in the month of September. But we’re not worried about that month. We’re worried about the month of August.”

Most concerning about Atlanta’s upcoming busy stretch is their current attacking form. Despite the return of Josef Martinez from injury Wednesday, they managed only two shots on goal against D.C. And that somewhat reflected their previous match, a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City where Atlanta only earned a point through Jacob Peterson’s last-gasp equalizer.

“I think the last game that we played well was [a 1-1 draw] at home against Orlando [on July 29],” Martino said through an interpreter. “In the game against Kansas City and in this game, I didn’t think we played as well. Outside of the first 30 minutes [Wednesday] where we created two really good chances. And after that we returned to being a predictable team.”

In the bigger picture, Atlanta has only scored three goals since July 4, even while taking a six-match unbeaten run into Wednesday’s loss.

Neither Martino, Guzan nor Larentowicz blamed their inconsistent schedule, pointing to Wednesday’s promising start as evidence. For Larentowicz, the solution may be as simple as having a little composure.

“You have to be dynamic,” Larentowicz said. “You have to change what you do. You have to have runners through the seams. You have to create wall passes. There’s lots of things. We spoke about that a lot tonight. But maintaining possession, taking care of the ball, waiting for that opening is obviously a big part of it.”