For Atlanta United, the 2022 season has so far felt like taking one step forward and two steps back.
Following a much-needed 4-1 win over the Chicago Fire at the weekend, the Five Stripes headed to the brand new GEODIS Park to take on Nashville SC in defense of their US Open Cup title.
Things started well. Goals from Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo put Atlanta 2-0 up inside half an hour and the visitors were playing some impressive soccer.
But then the relentless injury problems started to take their toll. The intensity left Atlanta’s game as quickly as it came and with little in the way of depth to call upon following season-ending injuries to the likes of Miles Robinson, Ozzie Alonso and Brad Guzan – and with the likes of Josef Martinez and Caleb Wiley still out – there was no answer.
Hany Mukhtar halved the deficit from the spot quickly after the restart before CJ Sapong leveled in second-half stoppage time. Then, just three minutes into extra-time, Ethan Zubak delivered a blow that the Five Stripes couldn’t recover from.
All three goals – a penalty, another set-piece, and a breakaway behind the defense – were avoidable. And each was a reminder of the ‘little details’ head coach Gonzalo Pineda is desperately trying to address to get his tired, faltering team back on track.
“In certain moments, little details, we talk about set pieces, we work a lot on set pieces, we work a lot on the long throw-ins. Just little pieces of lack of concentration or pressing at the right times,” Pineda observed after Wednesday’s match. “I felt that the team fought. They did well for many parts, but it’s just that little pieces were not as focused and the opponent is very clinical. The opponent gets one chance and they put it in the net. Congrats to Nashville, they did a good job.
“But, those little pieces of final concentration make the difference. I think we have a very young group and we need to learn from these types of stages where we didn’t succeed this time, but maybe if we face something similar in the future and this experience will help us.”
On what playing a full 120 minutes means for such a depleted squad, Pineda added: “There has to be some conversations there. I’m very proud of my physios and my sports science department. We are going to get the players ready to go again, but obviously, we need to take care of that and regroup. We will manage the load on the players for sure.”
Midfielder Matheus Rossetto, who wore the captain’s armband on the night, backed Pineda on how Atlanta United are working hard on refining the ‘little details’; keeping concentration at the right times, holding onto a lead and keeping intensity levels high in the face of adversity.
“That’s one of the main aspects of the game that we are working on,” the Brazilian said. “There are little details where we can be more consistent. We’re scoring two or three goals but we’re working on those little details not to concede. Now we just go back to Atlanta, rest, and try to improve every day, every training session to win as many games as possible.”