Atlanta United

Atlanta United staring into MLS Cup Playoffs abyss but fans urged not to 'give up on us'

Chris Smith
Atlanta United face an uphill battle to make the Playoffs.
Atlanta United face an uphill battle to make the Playoffs. / Ira L. Black - Corbis/GettyImages

It may have felt like it couldn't get any worse for Atlanta United, but then it did.

In what has been a miserable campaign for the Five Stripes, who have suffered from wretched injury problems, rampant inconsistency, and failure to turn up in key moments, another defeat has left them staring into the MLS Cup Playoffs abyss.

Just days after a 4-1 thrashing to the Philadelphia Union, it was the Portland Timbers who this time put another nail into Atlanta United's coffin, inflicting a 2-1 scoreline at Providence Park on Sunday.

It's going to be hard for Atlanta to fight their way out from here, now five points adrift of the top seven in the Eastern Conference and with their confidence on the floor.

"Well, probably right now after the game the confidence level is not great for sure," he coach Gonzalo Pineda admitted after Sunday's match. "It’s a moment where we need to try to analyze and reflect on what we can do better and come back with a better response next time. This is football. This is part of the game.

"We wish we could be in a different position and try to increase those energy levels or confidence levels, but we are not. Now, what happened tonight we can’t do anything about it anymore. It’s in the past. We have to try to move on and continue with the next game."

Goalkeeper Raul Gudino, who made his debut on Sunday, added: "Correct, we know things aren’t all good. At the end of the day, the team, the players, I think we’re working well but the results aren’t coming. That’s soccer."

Trying to predict the outcome of Atlanta United's final five games is almost impossible. On the one hand, three of them come at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the Five Stripes currently defending the fourth-best home record in the East.

However, those matches are against a Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi-led Toronto FC, Supporters' Shield-chasing Philadelphia Union, and defending MLS Cup champions NYCFC.

Their two away games are at rivals Orlando City, where Atlanta have taken just two points from their last four visits, and the New England Revolution, against whom they've managed only a single point in their last three meetings.

But this is not the time to fold, and full-back Brooks Lennon remained defiant even in the face of Sunday's defeat - which leaves Atlanta on a run of just five wins in their last 24 MLS matches following a promising start.

"Just don’t give up on us. We aren’t going to give up on ourselves. We still believe in ourselves to get wins at home, and that’s the most important part now is to prove to our fans that we are dedicated and believe in ourselves," Lennon responded when asked to send a message to the club's supporters.

"Like I said earlier, we are going to give 110%. We are going to get back to the Training Ground and work as hard as possible this week. We will do everything we can do finish out the year strong and continue to fight until the end and never give up."

Gonzalo Pineda explains decision to start Ronaldo Cisneros over Josef Martinez

One of Pineda's most eye-catching decisions on Sunday was starting Mexican forward Ronaldo Cisneros in the No.9 spot ahead of Josef Martinez for the fourth game in a row.

Though he's had some good moments this season, Cisneros was ineffective against the Timbers, touching the ball just 13 times, losing all five of his combined aerial and ground duels, and misfiring his only attempted shot way off target despite an xG value of 0.38.

Cisneros was replaced in the 63rd minute by Martinez, who went on to head home his side's only goal of the match in the final minutes. That's eight goals on the season now for Martinez, who has reached that total in just 12 starts and 1,329 minutes.

Pineda was clearly frustrated at having to answer more questions about his team selection, but did offer some insight.

"Look, I’ve been very clear on why I start certain players and not start certain players. I don’t want to go into that trend every time I make a decision. It was my decision," he said, adding: "The energy that Ronaldo brings in the way we want to press and stretch opponents for 90 minutes, not just for 30 minutes, Ronaldo can provide that at the moment. That’s part of my decision, but again there are many things that are going into that decision."

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