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Atlanta United appeared to be running on fumes in 2-1 loss at Seattle Sounders

The Five Stripes looked lifeless in the Emerald City.

Sometimes, the WhoScored match summary really tells the whole story. Behold the following excerpt from the report on Seattle Sounders 2, Atlanta United 1:

Summary of team weaknesses from Seattle Sounders 2, Atlanta United 1

Lost possession often: check. Atlanta was dispossessed 13 times to eight for Seattle, and the Five Stripes completed just six of 13 dribbles successfully. The 72 percent passing accuracy was 11 points below their season average. Seattle won 57 duels to Atlanta’s 44. The Sounders finished the game with 57 percent of the possession.

Were caught offside often: check. While this sort of comment isn’t a scathing indictment of a team, Atlanta suffered a big blow on one particular offside call. Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez scored a nice goal in the 50th minute to put the Five Stripes in front, or so he thought. On his initial run, Martínez did not get back onside before centerback Leandro González-Pírez played a long ball over the top. Seattle took the lead eight minutes later. 

Committed a high number of individual errors: check. Raúl Ruidíaz scored a golazo in the 58th minute, but it came after Julian Gressel turned the ball over on a heavy touch just outside Atlanta’s penalty area. The Sounders’ winner came when González-Pírez played a bad pass in his own half and no one marked winger Harry Shipp at the back post. Right fullback Franco Escobar was too far upfield, and Emerson Hyndman, who had just subbed on in a central midfield role, was unable to shift over in time to contest Shipp for the ball.

Fatigue must be a factor

Atlanta appeared lifeless in the Emerald City, and that should have been expected. Frank de Boer’s team is grinding through another congested month. The loss at Seattle was Atlanta’s eighth game in 32 days. It came after a U.S. Open Cup game in Kennesaw, Ga., on Wednesday and a five-hour airplane ride on Friday. De Boer has made some squad changes throughout this stretch, but his lineups have been mostly first choice. 

“I think with a good result, the fatigue is less,” de Boer said after Atlanta’s 2-0 win over Saint Louis FC Wednesday. “In my opinion, I speak from experience also — of course, the travel is different than in Holland, I know, or in Champions League — I think you can cope with [playing] every three or four days if you prepare yourself well.”  

The manager was correct. The travel is different than in Holland, where the longest away dates of the 2019-20 season — Groningen to Fortuna Sittard and vice versa — were less than half the distance of Atlanta’s shortest Major League Soccer road trip, the 440 miles to Orlando. The 2,178-mile trip from Atlanta to Seattle is almost twice as long as, say, the 1,334 miles from Amsterdam to Moscow, which would be the most daunting travel challenge for Ajax in the Uefa Champions League.

Atlanta’s starting XI Sunday featured one change from the team that played Saint Louis: Gressel for Hyndman in midfield. Even though the Five Stripes previously played at the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, de Boer may have underestimated the toll last week’s trip would take on his players considering their already tired legs.

No time to rest

Atlanta returns home to meet the Houston Dynamo Wednesday followed by a colossal six-pointer against fellow Eastern Conference contender DC United on Sunday. Then, the team jets back to the West Coast to face the terrifying Los Angeles FC Friday, July 26. 

The Five Stripes are 1-3-1 in league play since returning from last month’s international break, and there is not much rest forthcoming. Whether through squad rotation or altered tactics, de Boer must find a way to get his players back in form in a hurry.

“We need to find a way to come out of this,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after the loss Sunday, per a quote sheet provided by the club. “Whatever you want to call this-we need to find a way because it is not bad luck, it is not just one-off games. Another day, they could have had a few more. The second half they hit the outside post. First half they get behind us once or twice. It is certainly not bad luck, it is certainly not bad karma. It is down to us and we need to be better.”

“It is not just the defensive side of the ball,” Guzan continued. “It is everywhere on the pitch we need to be better. Create more chances, we need to defend better, we need to be better when we have the ball. Easy turnovers all over the pitch, we need to be better.”

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