KENNESAW, Ga. — With six players on first-team contracts in the starting lineup, Atlanta United 2 fell Saturday night in 2-0 home defeat against Saint Louis FC at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
Saint Louis (4-0-1, 13 points) opened the scoring with a Sam Finke goal in the ninth minute after Atlanta defender Jack Metcalf was penalized for a foul in the box — a decision contested by United players and coaches. Metcalf slid and appeared to win the ball without making contact on his opponent, but referee Sergii Demianchuk pointed to the spot.
“It’s not a penalty, simple as that,” Metcalf said after the game. “I think even [Saint Louis] was surprised it was given. It’s one of those things that’s out of our control, but 100 percent, it’s not a penalty.”
Head coach Stephen Glass agreed.
“A referee that is seeing things correctly doesn’t give that penalty kick,” Glass said. “It’s not something that you can legislate for. I can’t tell Jack not to tackle there when he gets the ball cleanly. He’s done right. He tackled the ball well.”
The controversy appeared to affect Atlanta’s mentality, and Saint Louis scored again in the 20th minute on a quick counterattack. Lewis Hilton played a long, direct pass behind the United back line, and Russell Cicerone finished the chance. The remainder of the half played out without a significant threat on either goal
Atlanta (1-2-1, 4 points) was much better in the second 45 minutes, thanks in large part to Andrew Carleton.
Carleton floated from wing to wing, leading the line at times and dropping deep to receive the ball. The Powder Springs, Ga., native put together some nice combinations with wingers Luiz Fernando and Dion Pereira and regularly found space on the ball around Saint Louis’ 18-yard box. In one five-minute stretch, Carleton took four shots but could not put any of them on frame.
Carleton finished the night with eight shots, tying an Atlanta United 2 single-game record, and he created two chances. He was named man of the match.
“I was happy with how I was doing, I just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” Carleton said. “You have those nights every now and then. I thought as a team, we played well. Individually, I played well, but at the end of the day, we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
United held 66 percent of possession and took 21 shots to Saint Louis’ 10.
Florentin Pogba, who signed with Atlanta United in February, played the first half at centerback before making way for Wesly Decas. Pogba is working back into shape after missing time with a hamstring injury. Anderson Asiedu, a regular in first-team training, went 90 minutes in midfield. Asiedu played in a holding role in the first half before getting more involved with the attack in the second. His performance was shaky in the opening stanza, but he grew into the game as it went on, winning the ball and breaking lines with passes and runs. Even with Carleton’s performance, Asiedu may have been Atlanta’s best player after halftime.
“I think in the second half, he was unbelievably good,” Glass said of Asiedu. “He knows himself. He can do better [in the] first half, but you saw his reaction in the second half, and that’s what good players do. They’re going to take any adversity and any negatives and turn them into real positives and try to become a top, top player. I think he’s on the right path.”