In the 35th minute, midfielder Marcelino Moreno took a routine throw-in to put the ball back in play. Midfielder Ezequiel Barco stood unmarked just a few feet away. Barco received the ball and attempted a one-touch pass back to Moreno for a simple two-player combination. Moreno stretched for it, but the errant ball went right back out-of-bounds.
It was that kind of day for Atlanta. The club lost 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park. The loss was Atlanta’s first since August 28 against Nashville and broke the team’s three-match winning streak.
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda attributed the performance to a lack of intensity, especially in the first half.
“The second half was a little bit better,” Pineda said. “But at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough, and we lost a very important game.”
Philadelphia’s attack was the better side on Saturday, taking 18 shots against Atlanta including nine on goal. The Union’s pressing play kept Brad Guzan active the whole match. Atlanta’s goalkeeper finished the day with eight saves, one shy of tying a club record.
The winning goal came from Philadelphia’s leading scorer Kacper Przybylko. The striker slid a right-footed shot past Guzan in the 71st minute.
“Today, Philadelphia wanted to create more chances,” Pineda said. “And we didn’t create enough.”
Atlanta took six shots on the day. The club had nine crosses compared to Philadelphia’s 16.
Atlanta’s attack didn’t look like the dynamic version that outscored opponents 10-2 over the past three games. Midfielders struggled to find each other and the attackers weren’t able to capitalize on moments when Philadelphia didn’t clear the ball well from the box.
One of Atlanta's best chances in the early moments came when Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake failed to clear a pass dropped back to him. The ball bounced to an open Moreno who couldn’t get a shot off. Then in the 24th minute, Barco and defender George Bello had chances for a shot on goal but neither were able to connect.
“Today they weren’t as sharp,” Pineda said.
Pineda said the team didn’t hold on to the ball as well as they needed to and weren’t able to give attacking players enough options.
The absence of striker Josef Martínez was a factor in the team's toothless attack. Atlanta United's leading scorer on the season wasn’t available today because Pineda has been trying to manage his minutes in an effort to prevent overloading him.
The team struggled to create dangerous chances -- the kind they've had in the past three matches with Martínez in the lineup -- and perhaps missed Martínez's competitive will to win most of all.
“When he’s not on the field, we need to find a way to make sure we still have that,” Guzan said.
Homegrown defender George Campbell, who is becoming a mainstay on the back line, started his fourth straight game. Defender Miles Robinson started today’s match and played a full 90 minutes after sitting out last week against D.C. United.
Philadelphia’s pressing attack demanded more from Atlanta’s back line. Together, the defense made 22 clearances.
“I have to give credit to Philadelphia because they were intense, fighting for every second ball to put our defenders under pressure,” Pineda said.
Today’s result gives the Union an edge in the 2021 series against Atlanta. Of their four meetings this season in all competitions, Philadelphia has won twice. The teams have tied the other two.
The match also shook up an Eastern Conference table crowded with playoff hopefuls. Atlanta entered the match in sixth place with Philadelphia just one point below. Philadelphia’s win takes them to 38 points in the table, two more than Atlanta.
Atlanta plays again on Wednesday. With the quick turnaround, the team is eager to put a lackluster performance behind them and bring a competitive mentality to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“You put this game behind us,” Guzan said. “We need to make sure that come Wednesday night when we cross the white line that we’re ready for an absolute battle.”