If you didn’t watch this game live, consider it a blessing. For the second time in a row Thursday morning, Atlanta United fell by a score of 1-0, in another disgusting loss that no Atlanta fan saw coming. Frankie Amaya’s banger of a goal in the 76th minute was enough to lift Cincy over a pitiful 9-man Atlanta United who once again could not find the back of the net.
The five stripes now find themselves alone at the bottom of the group after two games, with a whopping total of 0 points, scoring a grand total of 0 goals. Now, I know this is a tournament for everyone to get their feet wet in competition again; except it’s not. This tournament has regular-season points on the line. Gaining no points, and falling in the group stage would surely be brutal to Atlanta’s Eastern Conference standing. However, even more so than earning points, the obvious question must be asked: Where in the world are the goals going to come from with this team.
Unsurprisingly, from kickoff to mid-way through the first half, Atlanta controlled the game. Admittedly they did not look razor-sharp, but play in the final third was quick at times, creating several chances. Atlanta also controlled much of the possession in this time frame. That all changed when midfielder Jake Mulraney picked up his second yellow card in the 26th minute, sending the five stripes down to ten men. The foul was blatant, obvious, and stupid, leading to Frank De Boer taking the only true forward, Adam Jahn, off the pitch in the 34th minute. From that point on, Atlanta became conservative defensively, happy to concede possession to Cincinnati, who still did not look to press hard.
Deep into stoppage time in the first half, Atlanta was awarded a penalty after a blatant foul on Barco. However, a questionable VAR decision that claimed Barco was offside wiped the penalty chance away. The second half was more of the same with Atlanta sitting back until FC Cincinnati’s Frankie Amaya scored an absolute banger of a goal from about 25 yards out, giving Jap Staam’s men the 1-0 lead that they would never look back on. Newcomer JJ Williams also picked up a red card deep into second-half stoppage time to add onto the hurt, sending Atlanta down to nine men shortly before the full-time whistle blew.
Again it has to be said; this was an ugly game. Jake Mulraney’s red card ultimately changed the outcome. However, I felt Atlanta went back on the defensive end far too quickly. There was never a point in the game where Cincinnati was spreading the field and making people chase. They were slow and honestly acted like they didn’t know what to do with all the possession. Atlanta could have — and quite frankly should have — been more aggressive to take possession and keep it as they did in the first half because Cincinnati would have allowed it.
It also has to be said that Atlanta did one hundred percent get cheated out of a penalty. VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is there to correct clear and obvious errors, and this one was not that. To me, Zeke appeared to be onside, however, have we really resorted to making referee excuses against Cincinnati? I hope not. Atlanta ultimately gave up their possession and went conservative far too quickly, which isn’t all that surprising after such an early red card.
Atlanta simply must be able to score goals. If this continues, it will be a long season. My suggestion is switching formations. Barco and Pity are not true forwards, and they shouldn’t have to take on that role. Adam Jahn can fill the forward position and start solo up top every game unless he is unable to. I would love to see a 4-2-3-1 implemented, with Barco, Pity, and Lennon occupying the three midfield slots, Larentowitcz and a wildcard player holding the defensive midfield positions, and switching to a more conventional back four. Meza, Robinson, and Escobar have not been a convincing back three, often finding themselves too spread out, ball watching, and caught out of position, especially in the first game. I realize this is the first couple of matches back after a very long break, and for some, it may seem too early to think about switching things around. However, many of Atlanta’s problems seem to be more internal than just shaking off the rust. The 17’s will have one final shot at coming away with some points in their next fixture when they meet Columbus Crew.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire