Photo courtesy of Nick Ieradi

Atlas could’ve been 6-3 by now: What went wrong?

By Lauren Merola | Aug 25, 2023

Atlas didn’t fall to a lonely 2-7 record easily. The Bulls found themselves in a handful of winnable, tight games that went down to the wire this season. They could’ve been 6-3 heading into Week 10. Instead, Atlas is as much in the playoffs as it is out of them.

In seventh place, Atlas has to win its final game against the Redwoods to secure a postseason berth. If Atlas loses, eighth-place Chrome must also lose for the Bulls to still find their way into September play.

The whole “will they, won’t they” of it all could’ve been avoided with a winning record, which Atlas had in its grasp four other times this season, in which it lost games by only a point.

In Week 9, after holding the second-place Cannons scoreless in the second quarter – a major feat for a new Atlas defense that’s struggled to find its identity this season – Atlas gave up three 2-pointers in the third to relinquish the lead. Down one with seconds to spare, the Bulls couldn’t bring offensive coordinator Steven Brooks’ vision to life for the game-tying goal and fell 14-13.

Atlas was also neck-and-neck with the first-place Archers in Week 7, coming out of halftime with a one-goal lead. The Bulls couldn’t hang on to it, forcing Xander Dickson to net a game-tying goal with a minute to play to send the game into overtime. A faceoff penalty gave the Archers the ball to start and Tom Schreiber sent Atlas packing 48 seconds in.

“We were hesitant against Schreiber. We were indecisive in switching the picker,” Atlas coach Mike Pressler said after the game. “We weren’t indecisive all game. Our indecisiveness at the end of the game against their best player gave them the opportunity to make that last play.”

The Atlas defense also collapsed in Week 3, blowing a seven-goal lead to lose 19-18 to the Waterdogs. The Bulls had a two-point pad with 1:54 left to play, but a communication breakdown on a switch between LSM Brett Makar and SSDM Jake Richard left Connor Kelly, one of the best 2-point shooters in the league, with free hands behind the arc for the equalizer.

Atlas then lost the game on another uncontested Kelly goal with 10 seconds left in regulation. From the clear, Charlie Hayes found Kelly in transition for the game winner.

Transition defense remains Atlas’ Achilles heel. Through Week 4, the Bulls were scored on 41 percent of the time in transition. Through Week 9, that number rose to 44.3 percent. Atlas’ league-leading 20.6 turnovers per game and lack of two-way midfielders is no help to the cause, either. 

When settled, Atlas’ defense has improved since its first loss to the Waterdogs, when the Bulls averaged 15.5 goals against per game and was scored on in settled situations 37 percent of the time. Through Week 9, Atlas averaged 14.2 goals against per game and increased its defensive efficiency in settled situations to 29.6 percent.

The Atlas defense is the leading culprit for the lack of success this season, but its inability to capitalize on Trevor Baptiste’s 200 faceoff wins within the 32-second shot clock and exposed substitution game – again, due to the lack of two-way midfielders – are accomplices. There’s also the fact that Jeff Teat has been shy to shoot this year, scoring only half his 2022 goal total so far.

Whatever it takes for Atlas to win its final game has to happen, because it can’t end the season how it started: with a one-point loss to the Redwoods.

The Bulls are a hoofs-distance away from surviving the regular season and can do that with a win against the Redwoods on Saturday, but they need to maintain a substantial lead. If it comes down to a single-point with minutes to spare, history doesn’t tip in Atlas’ favor.