CHESTER, Pa. — If you take a look inside Atlanta United’s post-game locker room after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union, you probably wouldn’t have thought the visiting side had just pulled off a two-goal comeback to earn a road point. There was a somber tone in the room and perhaps no player looked more unhappy than Miguel Almiron.
What Almiron and his teammates surely knew was that Saturday was a wasted opportunity to grab a precious win. The Union played down a man for 38 minutes, but the tide-turning red card came with the Union leading Atlanta 2-1, and Almiron’s team simply wasn’t sharp enough to take full advantage.
Tyrone Mears’ stoppage-time equalizer helped the Five Stripes return to Atlanta with a point, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like a disappointment.
“We played badly,” Almiron told Goal. “We didn’t come in off a good game, that’s the reality, and we have to accept that. We can’t lie to ourselves. We have to improve a lot if we’re going to achieve something special. I think we have to improve in a lot of ways. We have the team, the group, the players, to be better.
“It’s not easy playing as a visitor,” Almiron said. “I think all the teams are good, but we lost important points, points that in the long run we could feel as we try to qualify for the playoffs.”
Maybe it was ambitious to think an expansion team, even one as good as Atlanta United, would go on the road and comfortably rack up points against a pair of struggling teams in D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union. Given Atlanta’s high-powered attack, and the lackluster form of the opposition, a six-point week seemed achievable, if not expected.
Instead of six points, Atlanta United returned home with just on point from its two road matches, with Saturday’s 2-2 draw to the Union capping the disappointing trip for the first-year team. One point from two matches was far from what was expected from a team that had been riding a six-match unbeaten streak before a break in the schedule gave Atlanta a week off prior to the road trip to the Northeast. Giving a stacked team like Atlanta rest heading into the trip to D.C. and Philly figured to be just what coach Tata Martino would have wanted, but perhaps the week off cost Atlanta momentum and rhythm.
“It could be that this time yes, other times it hasn’t affected us, but it could be that this time (the break) took away our rhythm,” Martino said. “It’s true that the team isn’t playing like it was before the break, but like I said before, we knew the break was coming, and now we have another break, and sometimes you can lose rhythm. We have to find that rhythm because we’re going to need it down the stretch.”
Wednesday’s loss wasn’t a complete shock considering D.C. United had found a way to beat Atlanta twice before. It may have taken an own goal and some excellent goalkeeping from Bill Hamid to secure the upset on Wednesday, but the reality is Atlanta simply couldn’t solve D.C. United’s defensive setup even after having seen it two times before.
Saturday’s draw with the Union was definitely the more aggravating of the two. Philadelphia had managed just two wins in nine, but jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on a strong start as Atlanta didn’t get going until after Alejandro Bedoya’s put the Union two goals up.
Atlanta responded quickly with Yamil Asad’s close-range blast to make the score 2-1, but the club’s vaunted attack never really hit its stride, even after Yaro’s red card.
The good news for the expansion team is that a six-match home stand awaits after the upcoming international break. Atlanta has enjoyed success at home, but will be moving into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The sense among Atlanta fans is that their team will rattle off the wins in their new home, but consistency has been an issue throughout the season, and the congested schedule — six matches in 18 days — could pose a serious challenge to a team that isn’t guaranteed to make the playoffs. Especially if consistency remains an issue.
“We’re going to play in our new stadium and hopefully the support our fans give us is rewarded with wins,” Almiron said. “That’s what they deserve, that’s what we deserve. We have to pick our heads up. We’re not doing well, but we have a week to improve and take advantage of our games at home.”
“As an expansion team, all season is going to be a challenge and right down to the last game we’re going to have to fight,” Martino said. “That’s what we’re doing. Today we conserved the possibilities intact and we’re going to fight until the last day.”
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