ATLANTA – You will be hard pressed to find a team around the globe happier about the timing of the March international window than Frank de Boer and Atlanta United.
The defending MLS Cup champions have just two points on the board after three matches in league play, including two home games; one against an expansion side and the latest a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union — a team sitting last in the Eastern Conference, with the worst goal differential in the conference.
“I think in the beginning we were finding some problems to really find our free man,” Atlanta’s head coach said in his post-match press conference. “Because Philly was very well organized, we couldn’t get our man in the midfield free. So the first 30 minutes was not the type of play we wanted to see.”
Atlanta’s first shot of the match came in the 36th minute, and it was one well wayward from Pity Martinez; it ended up in the upper tier of a crowd dotted in red, black, gold and green. Moments later, though, last season’s Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Josef Martinez smashed the crossbar to remind the Union where they were.
Atlanta finished with 71.6 percent of possession, but generated fewer shots on target (2) than Philly (3).
“It’s frustrating with all the possession that we had, but we didn’t create enough chances,” Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after the match. “And on the other end, at times it’s too easy for teams. Teams aren’t breaking us down, teams aren’t combining 15 or 20 passes and scoring wonder goals. It’s too easy from our point of view in terms of ability for teams to get chances, and ultimately with the goals we’re conceding.”
The Five Stripes entered the game on the back of a tense 1-0 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal second-leg victory over Monterrey that ultimately saw them crash out (3-1 on aggregate) of their inaugural continental quest.
“Every three or four days we had a game and you can see we are missing that little bit of freshness to make the difference, to get the pass to the right man at the right speed or in the first control,” de Boer said.
Guzan, on the other hand, was not ready to talk about fixture congestion.
“I think we need to have a bit more bite about us and a bit more intensity,” said Guzan, who had a visible cut above his left eye from a collision with Union forward Cory Burke in the first half. “You can talk about the amount of games, you can say what you want, but it goes back to what I said: When you cross the white line, you’ve got to compete.”
“Obviously something’s not clicking the way it probably clicked last year, so that’s on us as a team and a group to try and find that and figure that out,” Guzan continued. “Of course there’s a bit of frustration. We knew going into the season, it wasn’t going to be easy, so we’ve got to make sure we use this next two weeks and make sure we’re ready when we go to Columbus.”
Asked if there’s a sense more chances will be created when the team return to action after the break, Guzan responded, “I sure hope so. I mean that’s the plan, otherwise it’s going to be a long year.”
VIDEO: Who do Atlanta United miss more: Tata or Almiron?
Max Bretos, Charlie Davies, Bobby Warshaw and Matt Doyle debate whether Atlanta United are missing former coach Tata Martino or playmaker Miguel Almiron more to start the 2019 season: