ATLANTA, Ga. — Last season, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was a fortress for Atlanta United. The club's players said they sensed fear in their opponents as they stepped into a massive venue full of record attendances and decibel levels to match.
But only months after lifting MLS Cup in that same arena, Frank de Boer’s version of Atlanta United can’t seem to get a bounce to go their way. With a win on the road in New England last week, it appeared as if the team was bound to return to business as usual — which includes dominating and intimidating opponents at its home stadium. In Week 8, however, FC Dallas stood toe-to-toe.
“We want to put that fear back in teams of coming into Mercedes Benz to play us. Right now it’s not there,” said captain Michael Parkhurst after the game.
It wasn’t all bad for Atlanta, despite the result and the three points lost. In fact, De Boer said it was the best he’s seen the team play this year, pointing to the team’s season-high 22 shot attempts.
“If you play like this, I think from the 30 games, you probably win 28 of them,” De Boer said after the match. “I think we made two steps forward today — not with the result, of course [we’re] very disappointed — but I was proud with the intensity, how we played, everything that we expected from Dallas we confronted with good defense or attack. They had two or maybe two-and-a-half chances and they score two goals.
“Sometimes soccer is unfair, and today maybe it was for us,” De Boer added. “But you know, that's why the game is so beautiful. Not always the best team wins.”
Losses like Atlanta United’s against FC Dallas are often some of the toughest ones for fans to stomach, knowing that a win was within reach. And while players after the match were clearly upset with the result as well, they said that there are positives to take away.
“I think losses where you don’t play well are the hardest,” said veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “A loss like this is tough, but when you have a lot of positives, I think you end up being okay.”
Something De Boer was surely happy to see from his team tonight was the ability to turn possession into chances. Early in the season, Atlanta were dominating the ball to a huge extent, but were unable to break down an organized defense.
The team’s highest possession figure of the season came in the team’s previous home match against the Philadelphia Union (71.4 percent), but the Five Stripes only mustered 12 shots and two on target. Against FC Dallas, they nearly equaled that possession number (71.2 percent), but almost doubled their shot output and quadrupled the number put on target.
“We actually had a chance. We were the better team,” said Atlanta United winger Julian Gressel. “Hopefully next week we can play like this again and just end up scoring goals.”