Atlanta United went down a disappointing 1-0 away victory against Charlotte on Sunday afternoon to slip away 3-2-1 in their young MLS season. Despite the poor result, Five Stripes still finished fourth in the Eastern Conference standings without getting anywhere close to a full-strength lineup. Here are some ideas for a poor loser away from home.
If you’ve followed this team for the past six seasons, you know the drill. As Joseph Martinez goes, so does Atlanta United. The undeniable trend has always been that when the Venezuelan spell is out of lineup, Five Stripes struggle to produce in front of goal. While Gonzalo Pineda’s side averaged a respectable 1.34 xG on 16 shot attempts according to Opta – outperforming Charlotte’s 0.90 total – there was really only one clean look on goal. Dom Dwyer’s tight corner chance in the first half after being played by Thiago Almada was the highest combined chance for xG according to the metric and the resulting shot ended up being a throw-in by the opponent. This sums up the day of the Atlanta attack. The sad truth is that even two full years after a knee injury, the club hasn’t found a way to deal with Joseph’s absence whether he’s fit or not. With him out for 6-8 weeks, it doesn’t look great for the team’s offensive prowess in the meantime.
After the onslaught of infection, the news came this week and there was one prevalent question circulating throughout the community: Is it time to panic?
While the logical and boring answer is that it’s a long season and a long time to figure things out, the honest truth is, yes, it’s probably okay to panic a little. Without a focal point, this team appears aimless in attack. Simply relying on Thiago Almada and Marcelino Moreno to isolate several defenders and dribble them to create every opportunity would not be a consistent recipe for success. Until the likes of Luiz Araujo and Josef Martinez return, there will be a struggle to find some dynamism in the final third. This is not pessimism or doom and gloom. It’s only the truth at this point.
I suppose we should be talking about the giant elephant in the room. Brad Guzan became a liability. While he deserves respect and admiration for everything he has done for the club in the past, it has become clear that a back-up plan will be needed at some point. American goalkeepers fan Bill Reno has released the NBA’s Weekly Goalkeepers Ranking, and Atlanta was ranked last near the bottom of the league in its latest edition.
It was very difficult to watch the Olimpico goal on replay as Guzan seemed to have a clear view of the set piece for the duration and only had one body in front of him with minimal interference at best. To let that in is a bit unjustified and is just another proof that the first USMNT netminder skills are dwindling.
It may not be this season, but the club should think about what the future will look like with someone else in goal and have a plan in place.