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Our Defense Is Bad and It's Our Midfield's Fault

Luciano Acosta celebrating against Atlanta.

While that is an overstatement, part of our defense's failure has stemmed from poor tactical choices with our midfielders. There have been 3 main problems that have been our defense's undoing this season. The defense has fallen victim to individual errors, failure to pressure, and poor midfield tactical decisions. These have combined for almost all of Atlanta's goals conceded. It is been rare this season that a goal makes you hold your hands up and say there was nothing we could do. Those are the kinds of goals that you just have to account for and make up for in the offense, the goals we are conceding are from defensive errors.

Individual Errors

Giorgos Giakoumakis frustrated
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This first defensive failure is, in my opinion, by far the most frustrating. Routinely throughout the season, we have seen players make poor decisions, and more often than not, the poor decisions are punished ruthlessly. The main reason for these errors, whether they are an erroneous pass or a poor first touch, is Atlanta's desire to play out of the back. In this short international break, this will need to be a major focus of the practices. The defenders need to be able to hold their own on the ball and the rest of the team needs to provide easy options for them to play the ball out of the back. It doesn't matter if Miles Robinson can beat three guys if there is nobody for him to vent the pressure out to. This should be made significantly easier with Tristan Muyumba immediately earning a starting role, but still needs to be addressed for Atlanta's playoff hopes to be realistic.

Failure to Pressure

This also really annoys me because it just seems like the defense doesn't care or doesn't think the opposition really can score. Andrew Gutman was especially guilty of failing to press his man as detailed here. It wasn't just him, though, as made apparent by Dallas's first goal last weekend. While it is a questionable tackle from behind by Jesus Ferreira there is no excuse for three defenders to be standing at the top of the box rather than marking Paul Arriola.

The Atlanta United defense before Paul Arriola scores.

This is unacceptable, the defense needs to work on awareness and knowing where their men are and being there. For instance, against the New England Revolution, our defense was not set up correctly and it was punished. We always have extra men standing around and we leave players unmarked and it is not intentional. Part of this is that Brooks Lennon needs a better balance between attack and defense. When he pushes forward he can't get back quick enough and that draws Miles Robinson over to the wing. We don't need our best aerial defender pressing a winger whipping in a cross on the wing. Either Brooks Lennon needs to track back quicker or our left-sided DM needs to fill that space. One way or another, Atlanta needs to work on defensive spacing and pressing their men before a finely-tuned Miami offense tears them to shreds. In the example below, neither fullback is in position so Miles had to come wide and Abram had to cover both Ferreira and Arriola.


Midfield Failures

Last but not least, our midfield is not doing their job defensively. This is purely a tactical issue with how we structure the midfield when defending, but when we get the ball in defense we don't have any way of playing the ball out of the back and we just allow them to keep pounding on the door. This is because our midfield falls back into a tight second defensive layer on top of our back four. If they were marking players this would be great, but more often than not they are just marking space and even messing up our back four's defensive shape.


In this example, Sejdic and Sosa are occupying the middle space which pushes our center backs wide. While it worked out, Farfan (number 4) and Alan Velasco (number 20) were both unmarked, and if Arriola had cut it back they could have been dangerous. Pineda would benefit from assessing how the midfield lines up with the back four in defense so that we get some additional defensive pressure but can still stay on the ball once we win it back. Many of the goals we concede aren't the opposition's first ball into the box or first attack but their third or fourth because we can block their attack but we can't regain possession. In football, it is great if your defense gets a stop, but it isn't super helpful if the offense then immediately gives the ball back. We need a better midfield structure to allow us to reset and get some possession on the ball. Muyumba has been able to help with this some but we can't rely only on him to play out of the back. This is a good example, though, of him in a good space to allow us to play back into the offense. He is close to the defense and can provide some pressure but isn't acting like a center back. I also like his partnership with Rossetto because it allows him more of this flexibility because Rossetto has gotten better at defensive positioning and is also competent on the ball for short passes in the midfield.


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