Martino calls elimination unfair, says he "didn't talk about penalties"

ATLANTA — Atlanta United’s dream expansion season came to a crushing end on Thursday night in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as the home team lost to the Columbus Crew SC on penalties. 

It was one of the wilder and exciting 0-0 draws you’ll ever see, with a 41 combined shots and 14 saves between the two goalkeepers. Atlanta had 23 total shots, with eight on goal, yet all of them either flew off target, were saved by goalkeeper Zack Steffen or pinged off the woodwork.

“Sometimes that’s how these games go,” Atlanta head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after the match. “It’s a little unfair that we finished pretty well this season, and tonight finishing was an issue. Some of the shots that we usually make, just tonight we didn’t finish.”

“It was a very even game,” he said. “Columbus had their chances, and so did we. But I think over the course of the game, even though it was fairly even, we had more favorable chances than they did.”

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Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had four saves on the night, also thought the loss just came down to his team not banging home the kinds of scoring opportunities they’d been finishing all season.

“To be honest, with the quality we have and the players we have, I would have expected one of those to go in,” he said.

In the end, the match came down not just Atlanta’s inability to convert their chances over the course of 120 minutes, but also their failure to put away their penalties. Julian Gressel, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Jeff Larentowicz all failed to score.

Asked if he’d had team work on shooting from the spot at training, Martino admitted that they “didn’t talk about penalties.”

“I think we had the expectations that if it went to penalties, we would be able to take them,” he said “But in training it’s really tough to recreate those situations, of pressure situations in games.

“I saw a few guys take some penalties here and there on their own, but that was it,” said captain Michael Parkhurst. “It’s a crapshoot once you get into the penalties and we came up on the short end.”

He added: “To generate the chances that we did, it’s disappointing, but that’s the game of soccer. You battle and you battle, and you just never know. Tonight, it just wasn’t meant to be for us, for whatever reason we couldn’t find the back of the net.”