You could see it the moment the final whistle blew: a look of frustration on the face of Atlanta United’s players. This is a team that has, in the past, been nearly unstoppable at home and this was one that they felt slipped away. But amid the controversy of the game, they were clear after the match that they aren’t looking for excuses, just improvement.
“Teams are coming in with a similar gameplan to sit back and try to counter,” Jeff Larentowicz said after the match. “It seems like there is a formula, and like we’ve said to ourselves, it’s up to us to crack it. It’s between us, each other, what we do with the ball, and whether we can crack the code.”
It may not be a strategy for the soccer purists, but it’s one that’s proven to be a tough nut to crack for an Atlanta United side who’s been one of the most exciting free-flowing attacks in MLS ever since the club entered the league.
“It’s frustrating to drop points at home,” said Chris McCann. “We pride ourselves in being strong here and taking maximum points here. Teams are coming here to make it more difficult for us. They’re not letting us play the way we want to play. That’s down to us, just finding better ways to deal with that: being better with the ball, being quicker with the ball, making better decisions with the ball.”
The players know that no result is guaranteed and that teams are going to play defensively at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. So how do they deal with a team that packs it in on the defensive end?
“[Other teams] are going to do what’s best for them tactically, so that they can get the best result for them,” said Tata Martino, through a translator. “It’s our job to worry about us and figure out how we are going to solve that. Something we could work on is to have somebody other than Josef (Martinez) in and around the box who’s able to score goals for us. We need to try to have more guys in goal scoring positions.”
“[We have to] move the ball quicker,” Larentowicz said. “When a team sits back, you’re going to end up having more time on the ball than you usually do (and) at which point, you want to pick your head up and survey the options and play quarterback when really the thing to do is move it quickly, get it to the next guy, and force them to move. Then the gaps open up.”
But for a team that still leads the league in goals, this is an attack that is doing a lot of things right. So this is about tweaking the system, not overhauling it.
“Patience is very, very big in these type of games,” said Julian Gressel. "You have to just keep going at it… Everybody that comes here is happy with a draw here. We have to understand that as a team and just be patient and keep moving the ball to create chances. Hopefully, those chances then turn into goals.”
And for a team that has consistently bounced back from disappointing results this year, the motivation is only growing to get back out on the field to prove themselves once again.
“Being better with the ball, being quicker with the ball, making better decisions with the ball –– it’s frustrating, but we’re the only ones who can put that right,” McCann said. “We’ve got another home game next week against D.C. United to do that.”
Be there at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Atlanta United hosts D.C. United this Saturday by securing your ticket here.