Just like that, without so much as a goal let alone a point in the standings, Atlanta United are heading home from the MLS is Back Tournament.
The Five Stripes' defeat at the hands of the Columbus Crew on Tuesday evening was just the final chapter in an ignominious run for a team widely considered one of the pre-tournament favorites, even without injured star Josef Martinez. It also has Atlanta players preparing for some difficult conversations in the days and weeks to come.
“There’s a huge level of frustration, disappointment, anger, because this is not what Atlanta United is about,” Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan told reporters of the mood in the locker room after Tuesday evening’s loss to Columbus. “This isn’t who we are as a club. It’s not a good feeling in the locker room at the minute.”
After winning their first two games of 2020 prior to the suspension of MLS play, Atlanta fell flat in their Orlando return. They were harried and hassled in a tournament-opening defeat to the New York Red Bulls, victims of a first-half red card and a golazo against a bunkering Cincinnati side, and then unable to break through on Tuesday against Columbus despite a strong second-half showing, which consigned them to three consecutive 1-0 losses.
“Three games, six halves of football, and we showed up for the last half,” Guzan continued. “The second half was better today but not nearly good enough for what Atlanta United stands for and the club that we’ve all known this club to be.“
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Guzan, hinted that the root of the problem goes back even further than their recent showing in Florida, to when they dropped a 3-0 result to Club América on March 11 in Concacaf Champions League play. It was their final competitive game before the COVID-19 pandemic brought temporary a halt to global soccer.
“There’s got to be change — there’s got to be some sort of change on the field,” Guzan said. “There’s got to be communication, there’s got to be conversations, but then there has to be a response for that. It can’t just be talk, talk, talk and then get back on the field and do the same thing that we’ve been doing.
“This didn’t just happen in one game. This has happened now four games, and it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough as individuals, it’s not good enough as a group, so there needs to be change.”
Even if not all the fans are convinced, head coach Frank de Boer believes he can be the one to affect that change. Though the team’s mostly lackluster offensive showings will certainly be a source of consternation to the fans, the second-year head coach noted that his side have been able to play their way out of a funk before, most notably in the 1-3-2 start to his tenure as Atlanta United coach in 2019.
“Everybody is disappointed. I’m the first one who is really disappointed,” de Boer expressed to reporters after the loss to Columbus. “I can only say I will always give my best and I’m going to continue that to the end. I know I can change this fight that we have right now into a winning fight. … I’m convinced with the players we have that we really can change.”