Atlanta United have failed to find any consistency throughout 2022 but their 2-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday felt a little different.
After a fast opening, the Five Stripes found themselves 2-0 down after 15 minutes thanks to goals from Lewis Morgan and John Tolkin and in all honesty, it could have been worse than that by half-time.
A late rally yielded Josef Martinez's 100th MLS goal, achieving the feat in just 150 appearances - the fastest to do so in league history - but it was little consolation.
Yael Averbuch West hosted none other than Christian Fuchs for the latest episode of Football Americana. The Charlotte FC captain provided insight into the creation of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team, and bringing European culture into the American side.
Atlanta United are still only four points adrift of the MLS Cup Playoffs line, but are 13th in the Eastern Conference with a whole host of teams separating them from the top seven. Gonzalo Pineda's side still have some tough away tests at the likes of Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union, and Orlando City to come, while an in-form Toronto FC and reigning champions NYCFC are yet to come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With everything on the line, there's now zero margin for error for a team that has failed to win back-to-back MLS games all season. What's more, Atlanta must now pick themselves up after arguably their most damaging defeat of the season; one that sucked the air out of the stadium on Wednesday.
“I think that a lot of teams that we play are in those playoff spots. From here on out every match is a final for us," said right-back Brooks Lennon following Wednesday's defeat. "We can’t drop points from here on out. Tonight, was very disappointing and we all know that. But we just gotta regroup and get ready for Sunday.”
Sunday brings around that aforementioned trip to Columbus, who have lost just one of their last 12 matches and look rejuvenated since the arrival of Colombian forward Cucho Hernandez from Watford.
It looks bleak for the 2018 MLS Cup champions, but Martinez isn't giving up hope.
“It’s not over yet," he said. "I would have liked for it to happen in a different way but unfortunately it didn’t. We have to continue. There are still games left that we can turn it around. We have to thank the fans who came to support us tonight. There are still games left, an important one this weekend. We have to correct the mistakes, the poor 20 minutes that we played, and turn it into a positive for this weekend.”
Left-back Andrew Gutman agreed, rallying his teammates and asking anyone who didn't think ATLUTD could make the Playoffs not to bother turning up.
"If you are not going to believe, then you should not be on the team," he stated, adding: "I do not think you should be playing professional soccer if that is the case. I think everyone in this group believes that we can make the playoffs, believes that we can win games, and I know this is three points lost at home, but we can easily make it up on Sunday and be in a better position.”
In the likes of Thiago Almada, Luiz Araujo, and Martinez, Atlanta United have the talent. Now, it's all a question of mentality as the sands of time slip away.
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