Not a great start to the second-half season comeback.
Atlanta United started the second half of the 2022 MLS season in lackluster fashion as they fell 3-0 to Austin FC in the first-ever encounter between the two clubs.
Austin is an expansion side that joined the league last year and ended the 2021 season near the tail of the Western Conference. This year, they’ve made a roaring comeback and are second in the West. This highly anticipated meeting was a chance for Atlanta to begin to claw its way back into a playoff spot, but both the on-field product and locker room morale seem to dissipate any hope of the Five Stripes making it this season.
The starting eleven did not feature either of the new signings, but both did appear on the bench alongside Marcelino Moreno who was left out in favor of Ronaldo Cisneros on the left wing (a position that he hasn’t shown to be particularly adept at). Austin’s lineup was also surprising as it did not feature their two leading scorers Sebastian Driussi and Maximilliano Urruti.
For the first five to seven minutes of the game, it was Atlanta with the ball and attacking momentum. They made some good touches around Austin’s box, but the Texans’ organized defensive shape made it difficult for Atlanta to penetrate and create clear chances.
It would only take eight minutes for the visitors to open the score after Atlanta failed to clear the ball and lost it in the defensive third. A lobbed ball came in from the flank and was headered into the back of the net to make the score 1-0. Once again, Atlanta’s poor marking and disorganized defense reared their ugly head.
Another eight minutes later, Austin doubled their lead as Caleb Wiley lazily attempted a clearance only for the ball to land at Ethan Finaly’s feet a few yards in front of goal. Just 16 minutes in and the Five Stripes were down 2-0.
Austin was close to making it 3-0 at the 35-minute mark, but the goal was waved offside. Poor marking of a player making a run into the box allowed an easy header.
In the second half, a ball sent down the flank caught Atlanta’s defenders out of position and was put in the net after recently subbed-in Driussi received a rebound off the crossbar with no Atlanta defenders in sight. This goal in particular highlighted the apathetic and lethargic defending that has led to Atlanta conceding so many goals this season.
It was clear throughout the game that Atlanta was sorely missing a communicator and a leader to organize the defense. Juanjo Purata was subbed in for his debut after Austin’s third goal and looked quite encouraging with his pace and defensive judgment. One of his skills that Pineda touted before the match was his ability to communicate. Perhaps this means we’ll be seeing him more often in the starting eleven from here on out.
The final score of 3-0 was the worst loss Atlanta has ever faced at home and they did it in front of one of the largest crowds they’ve had this season.
Atlanta United play its next game on Wednesday, July 13 against Real Salt Lake at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7:30 P.M.